A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.

La boheme: Opera Australia

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Another one killed by the Space monsters. Enjoy. I did.

La boheme
Joan Sutherland Opera Theatre, January 4
Reviewed by Harriet Cunningham

4 stars

It’s Christmas Eve in Berlin, again. The lads are still behind with the rent, the ladies at Momus are still lovely, and Mimi is still looking for a light. As Gale Edwards’ glitzy take on La boheme rolls out for its fifth season in three years, some Opera Australia regulars might be forgiven for thinking they have déjà vu. Puccini’s music, however, never grows old, and a slew of fine performances keep the ennui at bay.

One of the delights of this production is that there are always new things to notice: a meaningful look between Schaunard and Colline as Marcello ignores Musetta, the glee of a youngster with a new toy, the maître de on the make. In spite of the vastness of the sets and the spectacle of Brian Thomson’s flashy Café Momus, this is intricate theatre, almost baroque in its detail, every individual on stage with a story to tell. At times there is so much to see, and Puccini’s score cracks on with such concentrated brevity, that it is almost a relief to see the third act quartet on a largely bare stage.

Giorgio Caoduro as Marcello, Richard Anderson as Colline, Shane Lowrencev as Schaunard, Sharon Prero as Musetta, Ji-Min Park as Rodolfo & Nicole Car as Mimì. Photo credit Branco Gaica.

Giorgio Caoduro as Marcello, Richard Anderson as Colline, Shane Lowrencev as Schaunard, Sharon Prero as Musetta, Ji-Min Park as Rodolfo & Nicole Car as Mimì.
Photo credit Branco Gaica.

The cast, very strong this year, are also at their best in the third act. Ji-Min Park returns to the role of Rodolfo with less physicality and more volume, his voice blooming at the top of the register, but slightly inconsistent in the middle. Giorgio Caoduro makes a winning Marcello, while Nicole Car continues to impress with her dynamic range and sheer beauty of tone. It is hard not to like her Mimi, even if she did blow out her candle and drop her key on purpose. The weakest of the four is Sharon Prero, in the role of the showgirl Musetta. Her singing and characterisation cut through the ensemble clutter but both could use a little more subtlety. Shane Lowrencev’s bottom-pinching Schaunard is equally obvious, dramatically, but rock solid musically, while Richard Anderson’s finely-turned rendition of Colline’s ‘Coat Aria’ stops the show for a lovely moment of intimate introspection.

The orchestral playing is ardent and rough-edged and occasionally overwhelms the singers, which actually serves to heighten the emotion as a surge of passion swamps clarity. The chorus work is, as ever, a multitasking masterpiece, juggling props and fancy footwork with the musical complexities of the second act finale. The greatest multitasker of them all, conductor Andrea Licata, pulls it all together with a sure hand and lifetime of experience in this repertoire, wringing a gut-wrenching play out from the strings as the story of Mimi and Rodolfo comes to its predictable end.

La boheme plays until January 21

Author: harryfiddler

Harriet Cunningham – aka @harryfiddler — is a freelance writer based in Sydney. Harriet wrote her first novel, about a runaway cat, at the age of 7. In the forty year gap between novel 1 and novel 2 she moved from London to Edinburgh to Sydney, ran an opera company, played violin on the opera house stage and sailed from Gove to Darwin. She is now a music critic and writer, best known as the critic who got banned by Opera Australia. She still hangs out at the Sydney Opera House, is still trying to get that novel published, and still plays the violin.

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