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La bohème

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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OperaUpClose's La bohème started life above a grimy pub in Kilburn three years ago and has now clocked up 300 performances, a landmark to add to its Whatsonstage and Olivier Awards.  You now have a chance to catch it on what may well be its final London run, at the Charing Cross Theatre, under the arches and the occasional rumble of commuter trains.

Puccini’s lyricism gets pulled out of shape, especially in the student scenes where you could almost be listening to Berg, and a keener eye could be kept on the storytelling, but the production’s vitality is still there and the updated scenario, complete with witty and anachronistic improvisations, keeps things fresh.

OUC’s staging of the second act was always a bit of a gimmick but a darn good one and, if an element of danger is now missing, it still holds surprises in an inventive re-realising of the original idea that suits the new venue perfectly. 

Casting is shared amongst multiple casts, inevitably for a continuous run, and so you take pot luck on who you get.  At the 300th performance Gareth Morris’s Rodolfo was the biggest and best voice this reviewer has heard in the various incarnations of the show and the girls were particularly strong.  Rhona Mckail’s “Mi chiamano Mimi” was the best singing of the evening and there was some lovely work from her and Morris in the duets.  Una Reynolds was a sexily refined Musetta and she sparked nicely off Nick Dwyer’s handsome Marcello and Martin Nelson’s exasperated Alcindoro.

It’s easy to forget the sterling work that OUC’s pianist does, replacing Puccini’s wonderful orchestrations with a driving accompaniment that always sheds new light on the score, and Genevieve Ellis was on top form.

This Bohème can't be recommended highly enough as a first opera outing.  It has charm and wit and flies by (judicious cuts from an already taut script helps move things along).  The experienced operagoer seeing their umpteenth performance of the opera will leave satisfied too, if youthful exuberance and inventiveness are acceptable substitutions for the standard of singing we’re used to in London.

- Simon Thomas


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