United Kingdom Puccini, La bohème: Heritage Opera / Benjamin Cox (conductor/pianist), Lowther Pavilion, Lytham, Lancashire, 24.3.2016. (MC)
Puccini, La bohème
Sung in English translation with piano and string quartet accompaniment.
Rodolfo: Philip Lee
Mimì: Sarah Helsby Hughes
Marcello: Nicolas Dwyer
Musetta: Andrea Tweedale
Schaunard: Matthew Kellett
Colline: Matthew Palmer
Benoît & Alcindoro: Justin Bindley
Waitress: Eleanor Strutt
Director: Sarah Helsby Hughes
Set design/construction: David Berry
Stage Manager: Charlie Mortimer
Production assistant: Eleanor Strutt
Handkerchiefs were out in force at Lytham for one of the most tragic love stories in all opera. Set in a freezing garret a missing key leads to an unintentional meeting of cold hands by poet Rodolfo and seamstress Mimi. For this spring production Heritage Opera had chosen Puccini’s irresistible four act opera La bohème, a heartbreaking romance set around 1830 in the student’s quarter of Paris, which has an enduring popularity with audiences.
Directed by Sarah Helsby Hughes this traditional production, although sung in English, flowed seamlessly and was full of sincerity and atmosphere. Set in the first half of nineteenth century Paris, David Berry’s simple, uncluttered but highly effective scenery consisted primarily of cardboard stand-ups in the manner of Toulouse-Lautrec which was very much in keeping with the painting talents of Marcello the likeable young artist. Highly evocative of the period dress code the costumes were excellent too. Typical of Heritage Opera were the number of smaller details it is so good at delivering such as French sticks ideal for the duel and food fight, sausage and chicken, cigars, the wood burner, and spitting out wine and lots more!
Those who follow Heritage Opera may have noticed that company stalwart Nicholas Sales who has previously sung Rodolfo is currently playing in Boris Godunov at the Royal Opera House alongside Bryn Terfel. Philip Lee stepped into his shoes to play Rodolfo and could be seen growing into the role as his confidence increased. Unfortunately, try as I might I couldn’t get on with the tenor’s nasal sounding voice although he sang well and was especially comfortable in his high register.
No stranger to the part of Mimi, Helsby Hughes was in prime form as the consumptive seamstress who has found love. Suitably girlish in voice, expressive and displaying a creamy, unforced tone her acting too was top-drawer especially with her captivating portrayal of the dying heroine in the final scene.
Nicolas Dwyer proved to be a steady Marcello demonstrating a fine expressive voice, excellent stage presence and acting ability. Of the remaining parts Matthew Kellett as Schaunard and Andrea Tweedale as Musetta made the most of their opportunities and I wait eagerly to see them in more prominent roles. Also satisfying was the well balanced flow of sound from the pit from music director Benjamin Cox and his string quartet.
Heritage Opera’s cast and production team in particular Sarah Helsby Hughes for her dual role deserved every bit of the warm audience applause for an evening that was a veritable triumph.