Puccini’s La Bohme presented by Melbourne Opera and performed on opening night at the gorgeous Athenaeum Theatre is a consummate production that will delight and engage newbies and fans of this opera, alike.
To describe this production as quaint is not to be demeaning in any way. I adore the antiquity and cosiness of the Athenaeum Theatre, which lends the audience an accessibility to its performers that opera doesn’t usually offer. I felt as comfortable as being snuggled up on the couch at home (which on a drizzly Melbourne night I wanted to be) but with the added benefit of great performances and fabulous set designs.
The fact that this opera is performed in English could divide audiences. On one hand, the audience isn’t distracted by intermittently glancing at surtitles to follow the plot which can be so annoyingly moorish. On the other hand, if you belong to that group of people whose romantic attachment to opera is reveling in operatics delivered in a foreign language, you might be disappointed. I have to admit, I belong to the latter group and so some of the charm of La Boheme was lost for me.
Nonetheless, there are some standout performances in this production and certainly none to fault. Antoinette Halloran in the role of Musetta is devilishly exquisite and I can only say there just isn’t enough of this bawdy character and talented soprano in this opera. Phillip Calcagno, in the role as Musetta’s boyfriend, Marcello, has a charismatic stage presence with a baritone to match. Let me just say this, Musetta and Marcello’s passionate meeting in Act Two is worth it alone to venture out to see this production. as the lead female protaganist also gives a really solid performance as the long suffering Mimi.
The Athenaeam Theatre stage is not a sprawling space so the set designers were really clever in the way they utilised the space so as soon as the curtains open the audience is transported back in time. Skillful use of design, lighting and space provides this opera with an authentic bohemian backdrop – carefree, disheveled and oppressive – to ably support the story and cast.
There was one issue with this production and that was that the orchestra – who I should point out played Puccini’s score beautifully – dominated the performers which meant the audience missed some of the subtleties of vocal tones and range which is one of the main reasons people go to the opera. Still there’s a lot more going on for this production than not and if you are a fan of Puccini’s music then you’re in for a treat.
Note that the final performance is at the Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash University.