Giacomo Puccini, libretto Giacosa/Illica
Welsh National Opera
Venue Cymru, Llandudno
October 12-13, 2022; 2 hrs 5 mins
La Bohème is such a well-known story it needs little introduction: four artists living a Bohemian lifestyle - ie, not earning much money - in a dank Parisian garret, one of whom, Rodolfo, falls instantly in love with a seamstress, Mimi, when she knocks on his door.
Originally set in 1830 in the Paris of Hugo’s Les Miserables, it's an exposition of life lived in youthful freedom until fate and the real world come to call.
Rudolfo, sung last night by Luis Gomes, has his life inexorably altered by his meeting with Mimi (Anush Hovhannisyan). Mimi is already exhibiting signs of tuberculosis, refusing, in her own youthful rebellion, to let that alter her vivacious, coquettish ways. As their hit-and-miss relationship develops, we are drawn - quite willingly, given Puccini's lush tunes - into their tragedy.
While the balance between orchestra (conducted by Pietro Rizzo), and singing was sometimes a difficult one last night, both musicians and singers offered the high standard normally expected of WNO.
The production captures an essence of Bohemian Paris - creative people finding their voice, railing against injustice and rebelling against the established order while also enjoying the pleasures of Paris on other people's money. Rodolfo and Mimi's first meeting is lovely, their instant and mutual attraction quite palpable. I was slightly less enthusiastic about Act II, its energy and brashness losing a little focus on the central characters. Act III's pathos is beautifully achieved, however. Both Rodolfo and Marcello (Rodion Pogossov) exhibit jealousy at the apparent flightiness of Mimi and Musetta (Haegee Lee). In Rodolfo's case his anger is fuelled by the realisation that Mimi's health is worsening by the day, and his poverty is making things even harder. It's a tragic scene, fully explored in Caroline Chaney's revival of Annabel Arden's original production.
The finale deepens the pathos as Rudolfo and Marcello, single again and turning their meagre meal into a mock banquet with friends Colline (David Shipley) and Schaunard (Benson Wilson), see Rodolfo's world finally crumble.
Mimi's return to the attic is the saddest of all: she is returning to her lover one last time. Cast and orchestra draw this out dramatically, leaving us in no doubt that poverty is taking Mimi's life, and a great love, far too soon .
WNO's revival is a thing of beauty, giving the audience the chance to wallow in a sad, exquisite gem, joyful and lush.
Puccini’s masterpiece continues to enthrall its audience, and long might it continue to do so.
Information and tickets here