I was under the impression I had a seat at the Theatre Royal to see La Boheme, and yet I was transported to the cinema via an art gallery, as references to Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Performance art were abundant.
The action of the La Boheme was performed in a frame, that represented a picture frame or a cinema screen, I think you could have changed your mind as the scenes changed, I overheard someone say, it’s almost like watching a television, and it was, it was a compliment.
So much of the space and the characters were staged and lit as if the production were scenes from a film. Particularly in the cafe scenes in Act 2, when the stage was almost a split screen, the cafe on one side and the street scene on the other, and we had close ups, and long shots! The cast and stage hands making it seem effortless.
While the cinema and film references were used to dramatic effect, a moment of pure stage theatricality was during the sublime duet between Rodolfo and Mimi at the end of Act 1, when I almost expected the credits to role, as the gauze dropped and a bright full moon shone, making an already heartbreaking rendition of a much loved duet, spellbinding.
The themes of the opera were highlighted with the continuation of black and red in the costuming and set design; red that revealed passion and love, youth and a desire to make a mark in the world, in the arts, almost impossible! The black highlighted the pain, hunger, unhappiness and ultimately death, and with it, a loss of innocence, and perhaps a need to ‘grow up’ and face a new sunrise.
One of the most enthralling aspects of seeing opera in a theatre your familiar with, is in seeing the audience space in the stalls reduced by a third and the orchestra taking up the said space. The music they create is truly worth every seat lost, under the brilliant direction of Richard Farnes, who took a much deserved curtain call, with the principle artists.
Members of the chorus for Opera North worked hard in their scenes and a special mention must go to the cast member in the scene in the ‘Cafe’ (she wore a white turtle necked sweater). The sadness in her character was apparent, drinking on her own in the company of strangers on Christmas Eve, truly a touching moment. The toymaker had me almost cowering in my seat as I remembered the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, still a scary moment and creepy after many years, and brought to great effect in this production.
I would like to say I had a favourite moment, or performer, but in all honesty I can’t, this was very much an ensemble piece, and the hard work of each and every member of this brilliant company should be applauded.