La Bohème, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2015Posted on 14 March 2015
This new ETO production boasts a terrific Rodolfo in David Butt Philip, who sang the same role to critical acclaim for the English National Opera last autumn. This time his more relaxed attitude allowed a fine interaction with the excellent Mimi of Russian soprano Ilona Domnich, and in their Act I meeting the eloquent message in her eyes just before his gli occhi belli brought impassioned responses, knocking spots off the first night of his ENO performance.
Ms Domnich herself developed Mimi’s character from subdued coquettishness to gaiety, anxiety and death — a beautiful performance by an extraordinarily attractive singer. And for coquettishness, Sky Ingram as Musetta in Act II was a delight. As she hit her high notes, up in the air jumped one of Parpignol’s puppets, which she then used to drive her erstwhile lover Marcello (engagingly sung by Grant Doyle) over the edge.
This was one of several fine moments in James Conway’s production, his first Puccini for the Company. It included glorious costumes by Florençe de Mare for Musetta, whose Act III vandalism of Marcello’s painting on the tavern wall by throwing red paint over it was a nice touch.
An opera that tours the country yet uses three quite different sets must make compromises in its designs, though their simplicity was well enhanced by Mark Howland’s lighting. I only wish that for the poignant moment when Mimi and Rodolfo are alone in Act IV the others had left the stage rather than freeze with their backs to the couple.
Fine teamwork under the baton of Michael Rosewell, a lively Schaunard by Njabulo Madlala and witty cameo by Adam Player as Benoit the landlord, but the emotionally gripping moments were the preserve of David Butt Philip and Ilona Domnich as Rodolfo and Mimi. These are singers who could fill the larger auditoriums in London, and as the ETO tours smaller theatres around the country the visceral impact of their performance is not to be missed.
After a further performance at the Hackney Empire on March 14, it tours to: Hall for Cornwall, Truro, 17th Mar; Lighthouse, Poole, 20th Mar; Norwich Theatre Royal, 23rd Mar; Norwich Theatre Royal, 24th Mar; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 30th Mar; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 10th, 11th Apr; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, 13th Apr; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 17th Apr; Curve, Leicester, 20th Apr; Warwick Arts Centre, 24th, 25th April; Exeter Northcott Theatre, 28th, 30th Apr, 1st May; The Hawth, Crawley, 6th May; The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 8th May; Grand Theatre Blackpool, 11th May; Buxton Opera House, 14th, 16th May; Gala Theatre, Durham, 18th May; Perth Festival, Perth Concert Hall, 21st May; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 28th, 29th, 30th May.