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"Let the audience decide!" La bohème at the Malvern Festival Theatre

Published by: G.D. Mills on 10th Mar 2017 | View all blogs by G.D. Mills

 

 

Based on Henri Murger’s novel La Vie de Bohème (1851), La bohème is one of the most performed operas ever written. Giacomo Puccini’s life as an impoverished young student in Milan must surely have provided a source of inspiration here even if, later in life, he could be found in his Tuscany villa feasting off the fruits of his musical success.

Act 1 finds us in the company of a quartet of roistering bohemians (a writer, a painter, a philosopher and a musician) in a perishing Parisian garret on Christmas Eve. It only requires three of them to leave the writer, Rodolfo, alone, and for a chance encounter with neightbour Mimi, a beautiful young seamstress, to set the plot going.

The opera is neatly divided into four acts and, stripped to its bare essentials, unfolds thusly - Act 1 finds them falling in love. Act 2 witnesses them enjoying their love for each other, their backdrop the bustling streets of Paris. Act 3 discovers Mimi afflicted by TB. As the snow falls their relationship disintegrates. Act 4 drops us back into the garret with Mimi at death’s door. In her dying moments she clings to Rodolfo and recalls love’s ecstasy.

Driven by the much feted one-woman industry that is Ellen Kent, who has been producing opera and ballet for over twenty five years, this production delivers musically and visually. There is something pleasingly childlike in the three sets: the first an impressionist, pastel portrayal of a Nineteenth Century Paris yawning out towards the horizon; the second a convivial street scene set alight by humanity; the third a startling vision of Paris besieged by snow. The fourth act brings us back to the cramped, impecunious quarters of the soon-to-be bereaved.

There is a warmth and comedy to the stage action even if, at times, it lacks spontaneity. Iurie Gisca offers us a striking and bold baritone, Vitalii Liskovetsjyi charms with a friendly tenor but the show must go to Alyona Kistenyova, whose willowy frame somehow yields a sensual soprano both seductive and sad.

When Puccini discovered that his contemporary, Ruggiero Leoncavallo, was also modeling his opera on Murger’s novel, a public quarrel broke out between them. Both claimed to have priority’, both insisted on precedence. Let him compose. I will compose. The audience will decide,” Puccini eventually declared.

And, as history tells us, they did.

 

 

 

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