As an avid lover of musical theatre and a general adorer of the higher forms of heavenly entertainment …
… found on Mount Olympus (don’t ask), I have always known that opera would find its place pre-carved out in the recesses of my heart, calling to it to say, “here lieth your homestead muse“.
So I was exceptionally pleased to see such a rich, juicy and yet delicately mapped out production of “La bohème” last night. For those of you unknowing, the musical “Rent” is essentially the commercialised version of this, one of the greatest love stories in opera, La bohème. Set in Paris, the story follows Mimì, a beautiful seamstress, and Rodolfo, a passionate impoverished poet, as they meet and discover a passion for each other which burns with a brilliant flame. But when Mimì falls ill it meets the cold, hard light of day. The question arises, can love eclipse death?
The staging was intelligent. Set in a small corner of Paris, we see the conviviality of friends struggling together to make ends meet, the joviality of community and the harshness of poverty through the wonderful direction of Jonathan Miller. This is especially notable in the huge crowd scenes, which do not stint on having big bodies of people on stage (ahem, Les Mis, take note. That barricade looked bare is all I’m saying). The amazing thing about these scenes, however, is how well back storied every single person is, to the point that there is no empty part of the stage where nothing is going on. The market scene and the restaurant scene are exceptionally impressive for these reasons and my hat off to Miller for creating such a complete embodiment of Paris in the Coliseum stage.
The performances were heart rendering and stellar. To me, the performance of the night belongs to
Nadine Benjamin as a lively, devilish and yet ultimately angelic Musetta. She stole every scene she was in and embodied the witty, comedic cruelness of her character to perfection. Add on an exceptional voice and winner. Jonathan Tetelman as Rodolfo also held my heart captive with his arias and a massive congratulations to Natalya Romaniw for her sweetly celestial ENO debut as Mimi.
My only issue with this production is that the story structure remains one of the flimsiest in stage history. Mimi and Rodolfo meet and fall in love in the space of 5 minutes. I suppose when infatuation exists, one can mistake it for love and hey, it’s not like Romeo and Juliet didn’t ride that self-same train all the way to its, spoilers, mortal demise. Anyway, I struggled a bit to not be taken out of the magic of the production.
However, these issues cannot be laid at the door of the living and so I will hold my peace and continue to feel blessed that I got to bear witness to such almost perfection.
La bohème runs at the London Coliseum until the 22nd of February 2019. Find out more and book tickets here.