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Review: WNO - La Bohème @ Bristol Hippodrome

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 08/01/2013 at 12:20
0 comments » - Tagged as Music, Stage

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As Welsh National Opera (WNO) bid farewell to their production of La bohème a couple of years ago, one thing crossed my mind; why did it have to go?

Their iconic version of Madame Butterfly is from 1979 and will be preformed in the next two seasons of spring and summer 2013. But none the less, the decision was made for a new bohème so I was willing to play along. I had seen their previous production and found it to be just right for a traditional setting of the work.

What I had discovered after seeing this new staging, is that director Annabel Arden made the decision to set it on the cusp just before World War One. Although the story is set around 1830, there is no real indication or defining element for it being set pre-WW1. In a relevant turn, I should point out that it was my plus one who found in the video work used in the new set, doves darting across the monochromatic, hand-drawn Parisian landscape. She informed me it reminded her of Remembrance Sunday. Perhaps that is what Sam Hunt, the Video Programmer, had intended.

The use of video in opera as well as theatre in general is in a weird position. It seems vital today, yet can sometimes take away the immediacy of attending a live performance. In an article I'm to write shortly, I will discuss how I entered a video competition, part of an opera competition, in which that part had to be cancelled, whilst the writing and composing parts went ahead.

Of course, the singing was world class in this, but I think my beef lies in the sets themselves. Rodolfo's apartment is without walls, just a door round the back. As his friend, Marcello painted on a canvass, the video display had blobs of paint treacle down the screen, as he eagerly painted. They are poor and in need of quick money, even though Rodolfo is writing poetry he is willing to sacrifice by burning the pages in his fire for warmth.

It was through this that we could see how exposed their home really was. I noted that as Mimì approached the men’s apartment, she walked all the way around the stage and deliberately blew out her candle. She then goes to their door and tells Rodolfo her candle has gone out, as if by accident. This was a nice little touch here as it’s not part of the story that she chooses to do blow it out.

This one little action completely changes her personality as seen from previous depictions. She is no longer a delicate flower but rather a woman who knows what’s she doing and intent on finding a man. Rodolfo hides her key in the story, after she is desperately trying to find it, only handing it back to her if she says who she is. So really, they are as bad as each other.

If you have yet to see an opera before, then this is a good one to start with. Any of Puccini’s four main opera would be great, these being this, Madame Butterfly, Tosca and Turandot. La bohème is shorter than most opera. Being only two hours in length, it’s quite a miniature in the repertoire. It appears there was an act of the opera that never came to fruition, even though the libretto for it had been completed. This would have boosted the length to over two and a half, i.e. a common length for opera. The story is similar to La Traviata in story, which modern audiences would link with the film Moulin Rouge!

This has proven to be a very popular production of a very popular opera. I will carry on loving the music of Puccini.

Looking forward to the new seasons in the New Year.

Rating: 6/10

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