Puccini's 'La bohème' at New Zealand Opera,
reviewed by HOWARD SMITH
It was immediately heartening to find Wellington's fine St James Theatre full to capacity for a vibrant production of Puccini's perennial La bohème, opening New Zealand Opera's winter season [seen Saturday 10 May 2008].
More than that, the strengths of the NZ re-creation reached clear across the footlights as Act 1 unfolded; firstly the story was blessed with a young, notably believable cast; long-in-the-tooth operatic 'lovers' or corpulent divas are still more common than one might wish. Not so in Wellington.
Secondly these 'Parisian students' were vocally strong; a well balanced team with focussed, ringing, firmly projected voices and consistently secure intonation.
Wade Kernot as Colline, Robert Tucker as Schaunard, Antoinette Halloran as Mimì and Jesus Garcia as Rodolfo in New Zealand Opera's production of 'La bohème'. Photo © 2008 Neil Mackenzie
Where controversy arose was over director Patrick Nolan's 21st century setting. Traditionally the bitter-sweet-tragedy begins in a Left Bank upper floor garret. But here set designer Ralph Myers and lighting designer Bernie Tan had contrived to create a warmly-lit, stage-wide living space with a low ceiling, brightly illuminated pleated back 'curtain' and a fire 'drum'.
But for a certain amount of 'Brrr-ing', shuffling, flapping of arms and burning the manuscripts however, no-one would have had an inkling these were miserable, chilly, bottom-of-the barrel students' quarters.
Nonetheless, as Rodolfo was left alone and Mimì's introductory scene unfolded, Puccini's alternate arias 'Che gelida manina' (tenor) and 'Mi chiamano Mimì' (soprano) immersed the Wellington audience in truly heartfelt, dramatic, laser-clear singing.
Copyright © 29 May 2008
Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand