Vivid La bo­heme not to be missed

The New Zealand Herald - - Entertainment -

It is easy, in cyn­i­cal times, to be jaded about the bit­ter­sweet beau­ties of Puc­cini’s La bo­heme, echo­ing Amer­i­can critic Vir­gil Thomson who sug­gested there was noth­ing more poignant than its sure­fire mix of youth, love and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

Jac­que­line Coats, in her first main stage pro­duc­tion for New Zealand Opera, bal­ances poignancy and pathos with a di­rec­to­rial ap­proach that is re­fresh­ingly tra­di­tional.

It looks tan­ta­lis­ingly 19th cen­tury, thanks to El­iz­a­beth Whit­ing’s cos­tum­ing flair, off­set by the stark­ness of Rachael Walker’s sets, par­tic­u­larly in the loom­ing ar­chi­tec­ture of Act III.

Don’t ex­pect a Qual­ity Street splash of colour in Act II, where sober hues sur­round a red neon Cafe Mo­mus sign and, rather clev­erly, red bal­loons car­ried by per­former Manase Latu’s ebul­lient Parpig­nol.

Yet Coats catches the so­cial bus­tle and bris­tle of her cast and cho­rus through vig­or­ous and in­ven­tive stage busi­ness.

This tal­ent was ap­par­ent from the open­ing scene, with Thomas Atkins and his three com­pan­ions, Ni­cholas Lester, Julien Van Mel­laerts and Ti­mothy New­ton, josh­ing and jostling as if chore­ographed to do so.

To­bias Ring­borg, in his third Puc­cini out­ing with the com­pany, sweeps this fine quar­tet along in the ir­re­sistible mo­men­tum cre­ated by Auck­land Philharmonia Or­ches­tra.

If there are mo­ments where voices oc­ca­sion­ally fall un­der or­ches­tral surges, it’s a small sac­ri­fice for en­joy­ing the nat­u­ral bloom of young singers.

Atkins and Mar­lena Devoe are mem­o­rable as the doomed Rodolfo and Mimi, from their first heart-stop­ping en­counter to Devoe’s mov­ing death scene, its set­ting hav­ing been in­ge­niously cre­ated by strolling cho­rus mem­bers, against an omi­nous tolling bell.

Amelia Berry as Musetta works well with Lester’s strong-voiced Mar­cello.

The strains of her cel­e­brated waltz dom­i­nate the Mo­mus scene, as she her­self does, with the same vo­cal as­sur­ance and keen char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion dis­played ear­lier this year in Can­dide.

Not to be missed.

Photo / David Row­land

Thomas Atkins and Mar­lena Devoe.

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