La Bohéme at The Congress Theatre

I’d been waiting to see this production since it toured last year, so when it came around again, I was determined to book tickets.

The sets and costumes gave a rich reflection of the 1840s Bohemian art scene in Paris. Surtitles made it easy to follow the plot line in English, but weren’t too much of a distraction. It’s only my second experience of seeing an opera live on stage – both at The Congress, both Puccini operas sung in Italain, both directed by Ellen Kent.

Opera is a strange art form for me to get used to, but it’s growing on me as I become more familiar with its conventions. Learning to check the surtitles for meaning, yet not just ‘read’ the performance, and recognising that the lyrics and scenes can present light comedic moments as well as aching tragic despair helped me to immerse myself in this production more deeply than the first.

I enjoyed the poetic lyricism of the libretto. The portrayal of the bohemian lifestyle – its struggles with art and poverty, the coquettish nature of the muse – was enacted in the turbulent love affairs between Rodolpho and Mimi, Marcello and Muzetta.

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The singing was rich, warm, passionate and sublime. The energy of the performers touched and captivated the audience throughout the opera from beginning to end. The blue hues of the backdrops and the detail of the scene-setting, including warm atmospheric lighting, brought the era to life and enveloped me in the story, the lifestyle, the moment. The ensemble carnival scene was bustling with delight; the hearty friendship scenes brought comedy and relief; the touching moments between Rodolpho and Mimi were tender and pure. I was carried along by the experience and I loved it.

The only things that could have been better were the unusually long scene-changes between acts. The glorious sets were worth the wait, but I felt the emotional impact was stunted by the delay. I’d fully expected to blub my eyes out, and I didn’t – which felt a bit disappointing in the end.

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