Review: La Boheme, English Touring Opera, Snape Maltings, April 17

La Boheme is generally thought to be Puccini’s finest score and its continued popularity was evident at a completely full Maltings.

Popularity has its dangers, of course. People may have been captured by a particular performance or artist at an impressionable time and do not always take kindly to a new take on their favourite opera. However, James Conway, ETO’s evergreen General Director once again showed his sure touch in a performance that, while containing many fresh and original touches, remained true to the essence of the work and in which the music seemed gloriously apt. The garret setting, with its angled plane of unfinished art worked perfectly as a space, yet seemed to add a brooding character of its own.

The female roles were very well performed, Ilona Domnich as Mimi brought out the gentleness and melancholy in her character and her death scene was perfectly controlled. Sky Ingram’s power and clarity was well suited to the more aggressive and argumentative Musetta and her argument with Marcello in Act 111 had real venom. The bohemian male quartet had nicely contrasting and individual voices, David Butt Philip very comfortable in his higher register and with a warm, rounded sound. Grant Doyle’s Marcello was crisp and incisive and he gave the impression of a young man who had already experienced a few of life’s knocks. Njabulo Madala added material comfort with his money and food and there were well-honed contributions from Matthew Stiff as Colline, Adam Player as the Landlord and Andrew Glover as the cynically used Alcindoro.

The highly experienced and deeply musical Michael Rosewell drew finely judged and sensitive playing from the orchestra; there was power and passion when needed but it never overpowered the voices and in some of the quieter passages there was a wonderful feeling of calm. There was no sense at all of opera done on a shoe string; indeed one could easily been at Covent Garden or the Coliseum. This was an admirable performance of a well-loved masterpiece and audience, performers and even financial controllers will have gone home content.

Gareth Jones

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