Friday 23 August 2019


pat o'kelly

national concert hall, dublin

Based on a play by French writer Henri Muerger, both Puccini and Leoncavallo were fascinated by the story of bohemian students and lonely seamstresses in the Latin quarter of mid-19th century Paris.

The composers had quite a public spat over which of them had the rights to Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, with Puccini's opera seeing the light of day first -- in Turin in 1896.

It was not a success and, adding insult to injury, Leoncavallo's piece had an enthusiastic reception in Venice the following year. A century later, fortunes are reversed. Leoncavallo's La Bohème is rarely revived, while Puccini's opera rightly enjoys global popularity.

Thanks to Lyric Opera, Puccini's masterpiece returns to the National Concert Hall this week for three performances -- the last is tonight -- produced by Vivian Coates.

The raised-dais set, designed by John O'Donohue, accommodates the student garret in Acts I and IV rather well and is made suitably sparse for the Act III customs gate at the Barrière d'Enfer.

It is less successful at the Café Momus where capering hilarity inside becomes confused with the hurly-burly outside.

Costumes imply World War II Paris, although Rodolfo's typewriter may be even be later, while Schaunard's hideous check suit is garishly ridiculous.

The production has the advantage of the RTE Concert Orchestra and, under conductor David Jones, the musicians revel as much in Puccini's passionate sweep as in his score's delicate refinement.

On the negative side, balance between stage and orchestra occasionally favours the instrumental forces, to the unevenly cast singers' detriment.

Sinead Campbell-Wallace's creamy-toned Mimi is assured and her voice has tender expression as well as warm depth, even if her consumptive character constantly complains of the cold.

Her Rodolfo -- Charne Rochford -- is a vocally incompatible match. A dry tone contradicts his convincing stage presence.

Máire Flavin is the flirtatious Musetta, in and out of love with the painter Marcello -- enthusiastically sung and portrayed by Matthew Sprange.

John-Owen Miley-Reid (Schaunard) and Benjamin Slade (Colline) are better amid the jostling ensemble than separated from it -- Colline's 'coat aria' being a case in point. But maybe this reflects the 'curate's egg' nature of the revival.

Irish Independent

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