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DaveBenlow's review of La Boheme - Puccini

★★★★★

“Five star opera!”

Written on: 08/03/2014 by DaveBenlow (1 review written)

REVIEW OF 'LA BOHEME', ROYAL ALBERT HALL, THURSDAY 6 MARCH 2014
MATINEE PERFORMANCE 14.30

The production was first class, the performances superb, the stage craft excellent, and the seats we had - Stalls Row L at the front - were on this occasion about the best in the house.

The principal singers, Danielle Pastin (Mimi) and James Edwards (Rodolfo) were a perfect match: their voices, both powerful and lyrical, merged together beautifully and formed a totally believable bond of Parisian bohemian youth. Along with the supporting cast, thanks to operatic acting and direction of the highest order, we were transported through a gamut of different emotional states: sympathy at resilience and resourcefulness in the impoverished cold; laughter at the razor sharp wit of the youths and the pierced pomposity of both the landlord and Musetta's chaperon Alicandoro; awe at the scale and depth of the frenetic activity involving the whole assembly outside the Cafe Momus; relief at the reconciliation of the lovers; then concern and finally heart-rending despair at the final demise of the leading lady. All carried out with gripping flair; no scenes were weak: all grabbed our attention - and very few operatic productions can claim that.

On a personal note, we felt we were particularly lucky. The front seats for an opera 'in the round' might have been difficult, with a stage full of actors blocking view across the stage. But it was not so on this occasion: much, if not most, of the off-central-stage action happened to take place in the corner under our very noses. Not speaking Italian, the translation scripts might have been a problem to read from the front.......not so: translations were clearly visible from many angles and perfectly cued to the phrasing of the lyrics.

If there was one point of query (rather than criticism), it would be on the 'updating' of the setting. Many updates have worked famously (eg the transposing of Carmen into the America of the second world war in Carmen Jones). But on this occasion, I could see no reason for it. Impressive though the uniforms, the dress and the sheer detail of the 1940s style were, surely no setting could better portray resilient, ill-healthed artists staving off death against a back-cloth of slum-exploited consumptive poverty than the time the opera was actually set...Bohemian Paris of the 1890s...... Although there was a good deal of descriptive detail about 1940s Paris in the programme, I could find no motivation anywhere for the change.

But this query in no way affected my enjoyment. It was a brilliant production and first-class entertainment.

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