Theatre Royal, Glasgow,
various dates until May 20;
then touring until June 17
Reviewed by Mark Brown
It is the measure of Paris’s status as the “City of Love” that even the poverty-stricken artists of the 19th-century are part its romantic iconography. This image (which contrasts starkly with the neglected banlieues of present day Paris) is referenced knowingly by Andre Barbe, designer of Scottish Opera’s new production of Puccini’s La boheme.
Director Renaud Doucet’s production cuts between the Latin Quarter today, replete with baseball-hatted American tourists, and the same streets in the early 1800s. As we meet penniless poet Rodolfo and the impoverished Bohemians who make up his circle of friends, Barbe frames a photograph of the famous rooftops of Paris as a picture postcard, stamped and franked for added irony.
The famous light-footedness of Puccini’s score is reflected in a production which emphasises the comic and romantic dimensions of the opera. As Rodolfo falls in love with the lonely and lovely seamstress Mimi, the singer Musetta (played by the excellent Trinidadian soprano Jeanine De Bique) is reinvented as a version of Josephine Baker, the iconic entertainer of Paris in the jazz age.
Doucet’s staging veers between colourful Christmas carnival (complete with splendidly costumed street performers) and the tribulations of the starving artists. There are fine performances across the piece, not least the nuanced and emotive playing of Portuguese tenor Luis Gomes (Rodolfo) and British baritone David Stout (the painter Marcello).
Inevitably, however, the opera focuses on the increasingly desperate health of Mimi (who is in the grip of tuberculosis). The role of the ailing seamstress is performed with, by turns, touching sincerity and shuddering pathos by South Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee.
As Mimi lies dying on a sofa, surrounded by the artists who have become her adopted family, Doucet fashions a powerful denouement that honours Puccini’s stated desire to make his audiences weep.
For tour dates, visit: scottishopera.org.uk
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on May 14, 2017
© Mark Brown