La Bohème, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, January 2017

For a touring production with limited scope for elaborate stage designs this is little short of miraculous. Tim Mitchell’s lighting works wonders with the rooftops of Paris, the romance and passion of Act I turning to a scene of paradise after death in Act IV as Mimi lies alone in the Bohemians’ apartment. I loved the wintry snows in Act III, and the stark lighting changes that give an inside/outside feel to the Act II Café Momus scene.

Act I Mimi and Rodolfo, all images WNO/ Robert Workman

Framed by Annabel Arden’s lovely production the orchestra under the baton of Manlio Benzi gave fun and passion to Puccini’s score, swelling with emotion yet leaving the singers ample apace to express themselves. Dominick Chenes showed engaging ardour as Rodolfo, singing with heroic timbre, and Marina Costa-Jackson turned Mimi from bright and knowing coquettishness in the first two acts to a tragic figure in Act III. Their first encounter lacked the usual timorous uncertainty, and he returns the key he found almost as if it’s an engagement ring, but their subsequent duet was simply wonderful.

Benoit surrounded by Colline, Schaunard, Rodolfo, Marcello

The other Bohemians gave glorious accounts of their roles, with Gareth Brynmor John a dramatically effective Schaunard, Jihoon Kim’s well sung bass making Colline a superbly grounded philosopher, and Gary Griffiths giving Marcello a wonderfully warm tone. His charisma, musicality and beautiful phrasing were highlights of the performance. As his beloved but assertively tricky Musetta, Lauren Fagan gave a striking portrayal, a drama queen who never went over the top, and their duet at the end of Act III contrasted well with the misplaced optimism of Mimi and Rodolfo.

Musetta at Café Momus

Designs by Stephen Brimson Lewis serve this production well and I loved the patchwork quilt shared by Rodolfo and Marcello in Act I, which returns to keep Mimi warm in Act IV. This well-judged revival by Caroline Chaney makes excellent use of the chorus, who sang superbly as usual, and made the stage look fuller than it was for the marching band in Act II. I liked the playful arrogance of the waiters in that Act, and even the monkey costume for Parpignol — a production of huge fun but pathos too, expressed so well by the designs and projections, and with singing and conducting that moves the emotions as Puccini intended.

Rodolfo and Mimi in Act III

Performances continue at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 28 Jan – 15 Feb; Milton Keynes Theatre, 22 Mar – 23 Mar; The Bristol Hippodrome, 29 Mar – 30 Mar; Venue Cymru, Llandudno, 5 Apr – 7 Apr; Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 19 Apr – 21 Apr; Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 26 Apr – 28 Apr. For details click here.

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