Opera Theatre Company at O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin, on 13 May 2016
Opera Theatre Company follows last month’s concert performance of Ariodante with a new stage production of Puccini’s La Bohème. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, OTC has achieved a great deal, and a production like this re-affirms its commitment to making opera accessible, and mobile, by presenting works on a smaller scale. In a curious departure, however, this is the first OTC stage production to be sung not in an English translation but in the original Italian (with surtitles).
Before the show even opens, we hear members of the band (string quartet with extra wind, percussion, double bass and harp) limbering up, playing through the familiar themes. This makes for an unusual intimacy, especially for anyone used to the lush, full texture of Puccini’s music. The story of La Bohème – ‘the Bohemian’ – and its tight urban setting certainly matches this understated feel, and director Ben Barnes’ production mostly follows the traditional story, updating it to the 1920s. Unfortunately this simplicity frays the second act’s street scene, with the starkness of the setting, along with the small size of the chorus (and the lack of children and a marching band!), exposing the mechanics of the drama a little too well.
The pairing of Marcello (Charles Rice) and Rodolfo (Pablo Bemsch) works well dramatically, though at times the balance of their voices is less even, with Rice’s rich baritone projecting more strongly into the O’Reilly’s tricky acoustic than his tenor partner. Joining them to make up the full team, Rory Musgrave offers a stylish performance as Schaunard, while Padraic Rowan (as Colline) continues to impress – certainly a singer to watch. Máire Flavin makes an impressive role debut as Mimì, and her voice grows into the part as the evening progresses, bringing beautiful warmth of tone and affecting drama to the third and fourth acts. Outstanding tonight is Sineád Campbell-Wallace as the vampish Musetta. This is an upstaging role at the best of times, but with little to compete with in the second act. Offering a tremendous performance both physically and vocally, it is impossible to look away while she is on stage.
The cast work very well together as an ensemble, and bring across the story with energy and care. This is a production where small gestures are particularly telling, and the sensitivity extends to stagecraft, including a beautiful lighting design by John Comiskey. As with any good production of this work, one can still see new things, and once again admire the craft that Puccini invested in this work. Touring across the country until 3 June, it is well worth seeking out.
Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
Sung in Italian (libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa), with English surtitles
Director: Ben Barnes; Designer: Joe Vanek; Lighting Designer: John Comiskey Conductor: Andrew Greenwood
Cast: Máire Flavin (Mimì); Pablo Bemsch (Rodolfo); Sinéad Campbell-Wallace (Musetta); Charles Rice (Marcello); Rory Musgrave (Schaunard); Padraic Rowan (Colline); Adrian Clarke (Alcindoro & Benoit); Patrick Hyland (Parpignol)