The Scottish Opera’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème is a stunning interpretation of classic operatic repertoire.
Director Renaud Doucet and designer André Barbe’s decision to bring Rodolfo and Mimì’s traditional 19th-century romance into the jazz age fits seamlessly within the bustling sets and free-spirited characters of Puccini’s original work. Jeanine De Bique’s exuberant Musetta can be seen as a tribute to Josephine Baker, complete with pet cheetah and captivating singing.
Setting the opera in the jazz age gives audience the modest, bohemian lifestyles of the original characters and provides opportunities to fill the stage with opulence and chaos. For example, the scene in front of Cafe Momus typifies the care-free attitudes shared by society in both time periods, but includes the glitz and glamour typical of the beloved jazz age.
La Bohème is a tale that transcends both language and social structures, allowing everyone to be a part of Rodolfo and Mimi’s bittersweet romance and, while the sets were truly beautiful, it was impossible to take one’s eyes away from the singers. As Mimì (Hye-Youn Lee) lay on her deathbed, the backdrops seemed to fade and the supertitles appeared to be nothing but nuisances. Hye-Youn Lee is no stranger to emotion, and though a talented singer, Lee’s portrayal of Mimì is truly made through nuanced facial expressions and quivering vocal inflections. Additionally, Luis Gomes’ portrayal of Rodolfo was memorable; though his voice was soft, it only added depth to the character and enhanced the storyline. I frequently found myself ignoring the English translations to bask in the singers’ emotional portrayal of Puccini’s flawless score.
Though many moments of the show seemed to come together in perfect balance, not every note was perfect. Frequently the brass section of the pit orchestra outplayed the singers at the climaxes of songs. Rather than creating a base for the singers to build off, certain musicians played over cast voices; this resulted in musical impacts that distanced the audience from the story, rather than bringing it closer to the carefully crafted world onstage.
La Bohème is a timeless story that romanticises the past and reflects upon the human desire to forgo materialism and find value in art. The Scottish Opera’s interpretation of this classic is a must see for anyone looking for an escape from the restrictive, banal world that many of us live in.
Running until June 10th.
Photo Credit: Sally Jubb