A earthy La Boheme that throws away the chocolate box wrapping

Annabel Arden’s 2012 production of La Boheme, now revived by Welsh National Opera for the second offering of its 2022 autumn season, gives its audience a largely straightforward telling of the doomed love affair of Mimi and Rodolfo. The only real “take” on the work is setting the opera in the early 20th century, perhaps predicting the first world war that will sweeps away these young lives and their idealism.

Revived by Caroline Chaney, the production itself makes use of video projections from Nina Dunn whether that be flying birds, fireworks, snow flurries to enlive or at least illuminate Stephen Brimson Lewis’ designs that are conventional enough, if rather cramped for the (over fussy) Café Momus scene.

Anush Hovhannisyan is a beautifully sung Mimi who is immediately seen as no innocent, here she blows out her candle (twice) to create the situation for her fumble in the darkness with Rodolfo, and is not backward in coming forward. Similarly, Luis Gomes’ ardent lyrical Rodolfo has also grasped the opportunity presented by the apparently lost key, to make love to the young beauty. They both act as well as sing the roles with the chemistry of mutual attraction and raging hormones that even the bitter cold weather cannot chill.

Luis Gomes and Rodion Pogossov

Bemson Wilson, David SHipley (rear) and Luis Gomes and Rodion Pogossov

Haegee Lee and Rodion Pogossov

However, even the hottest of passions cools and the stifling, failed idealistic relationship between Mimi and Rodolfo is contrasted with the “easy” if fiery relationship between an elegantly acted and sung Marcello from Rodion Pogossov and Musetta from a sparky Haegee Lee. Musetta has to really sparkle in the Café Momus scene, and indeed she does, yet it is the Act III duet with Marcello that really matters in establishing her character. This is where this prudction really provded its worth, with the two pairs of singers working together splendidly.

Our fellow garret dwelling Bohemians Schaunard and Colline were richly sung by Benson Wilson and David Shipley bringing a delicious, soothing warmth to the chill of the icy garret. You really get the sense that these are four young chaps enjoying their company, playing silly youthful games as well as strutting around as wpuld be artists and intellectuals.

Conductor Pietro Rizzo shows a sympathy with the harshness of the gut-wrenching dark, dark work with a brightness of playing of Puccini’s score that is so full of vibrancy and life and keeps the drama unfolding at a pace

Until October 6 then touring until December


Images Richard Hubert Smith

Main image Anush Hovhannisyan and Luis Gomes

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