Saturday, November 10, 2018

An emotional wave of love and loss in Opera Australia's Weimar-era La bohème in Melbourne: Herald Sun Review

Published in print in Melbourne's Herald Sun, 9th November, 2018.

It’s only two years since director Gale Edwards’ original 2011 Weimar-era La bohème was seen in Melbourne. In its latest revival under Hugh Halliday’s polished direction, Opera Australia’s lavish investment in Puccini’s popular classic looks set to enamour new audiences again.

The cast of Opera Australia's La bohème, Act 2
Niggling issues remain in transferring Puccini’s story from 1890s Paris to 1930s Berlin but fade behind sympathetically drawn characters and imbedded contrasts. Complicated love and tragic loss, little pleasures and hedonistic excess, with hope versus despair, are juxtaposed skilfully. 

What matters most is the emotional wave that pours through the work. A cast of local and international leads propelled it marvellously on opening night. The chemistry burned affectingly between Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska’s dreamy but determined Mimì and Korean-born tenor Yosep Kang’s emotively pumped Rodolfo. 

Mimì’s final deathbed scene was all the more moving because you saw it coming from the start. Kovalevska portrayed Mimì’s last months convincingly, from the moment love blossoms and through its turns as death slowly approaches. Kovalevska’s creamy tone and alluring top notes blended in a superbly nuanced vocal interpretation.

Kang’s fearless and muscular tenor was pushed at the top but the voice reached perfected expression in the final act. I’m certain as many tears were shed for Kang’s heartbroken Rodolfo as for Mimì’s frozen smile in death.

Yosep Kang and Maija Kovalevska
Christopher Tonkin cruised early on in suave voice as Marcello and Jane Ede was as dazzling in voice as the silvery dress she cavorted in as a siren-seductive Musetta. Bohemian funsters Richard Anderson’s gentle-giant Colline and Christopher Hillier’s camp Schaunard were splendidly complete.

Designer Brian Thomson’s multipurpose and voluminous, polygonal turret intimately held Act’s 1’s shenanigans between friends and accidental meeting of Mimì and Rodolfo. Transformed into a bordello-cum-cabaret hall in Act 2, it’s an eye-popping display of exhibitionism and decadence. It seems everyone traipses through, oddly allowing entry to a clarion ragamuffin children’s chorus and drumming marching girls. Still, Julie Lynch’s costumes capture society’s breadth spectacularly. 

Conductor Pietro Rizzo’s vividly textured reading highlighted Orchestra Victoria’s stellar musicianship. Finished with a red-hot chorus, in its Weimar guise, La bohème still captures the timelessness of a classic.

La bohème 
Opera Australia 
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne 
Until 24th November, 2018


Production Photos: Jeff Busby

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