Social distancing is no bar to an excellent La bohème from Irish National Opera

IrelandIreland Puccini, La bohème: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Irish National Opera / Sergio Alapont (conductor). Livestreamed from the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, 13.3.2021. (RB)

Merūnas Vitulskis (Rodolfo) and Celine Byrne (Mimì) (c) Ros Kavanagh

Sinéad McKenna – Production and Lighting Design
Elaine Kelly – Assistant Conductor and Chorus Director

Celine Byrne – Mimì
Anna Devin – Musetta
Merūnas Vitulskis – Rodolfo
David Bizic – Marcello
Ben McAteer – Schaunard
John Molloy – Colline
Eddie Wade – Benoît, Alcindoro
Fearghal Curtis – Parpignol
David Howes – Doganiere
Rory Dunne – Sergente

Irish National Opera have followed up last year’s acclaimed ’20 Shots of Opera’ (review) with this concert performance of La bohème.  This production was an exemplar of how large-scale operas can still be performed nowadays.  The production team made optimum use of Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre to ensure all the performers were socially distanced.  The conductor and orchestral players all wore masks and other performers wore masks when they were not performing.  The choir were sitting spaced out in the stalls while the children’s choir were in the circle.  The orchestra were seated on the main stage with the performers, rather than in the pit.

The absence of a set, props and costumes can make it more difficult for the performers to portray the characters convincingly and depict the unfolding dramatic events.  I am pleased to say that all the performers in this production gave fully rounded portrayals of their characters.  Celine Byrne was spectacularly good as the doomed Mimì.  She brought intimacy and tenderness to the opening act and was highly convincing depicting Mimì’s deterioration and fragility in the final scene.  The singing was perfectly calibrated to the action with Byrne bringing an enormous range of colour to the vocal line and soaring passions to Puccini’s great love scenes.  ‘Si, mi chiamano Mimì’ was wonderfully nuanced and delivered with a ravishing tone.  I loved the way Byrne conveyed the increasingly lost and desolate feelings of the character as the opera progressed.  Lithuanian tenor, Merūnas Vitulskis, gave a convincing performance although I felt he was growing into the role of Rodolfo and there is scope for him to develop it further.  He sang with enormous ease and fluency and soared up to Puccini’s top notes in an effortless way.  He invested ‘Che gelida manina’ with sumptuous vocal colours and blazed with hot intensity.

Anna Devin did an excellent job bringing to life the manipulative and coquettish Musetta.  She sang Act II’s famous waltz song was with an opulent beauty of tone and winning lyricism.  While emphasising the flighty and superficial aspects of the character in her initial appearance she also brought a poignancy and humanity to the role when she offered to sell her earrings to buy medicine for Mimi in the final act.  David Bizic brought enormous vocal power and dark vocal colours to the role of Marcello. He blended well in the ensemble set pieces and was particularly good in the Act III duet with Mimì.  He did an excellent job bringing the laddish sparring and comic scenes to life in the bohemians’ garret.  Ben McAteer and John Molloy also acquitted themselves well in their respective roles – there were no weak links in the cast.

Sergio Alapont (conductor) and Orchestra of INO (c) Ross Kavanagh

Sergio Alapont kept a tight grip on the orchestra and chorus and accompanied the singers beautifully.  He maintained an excellent balance of sound between the singers and the orchestra which was impressive given that the players were on the main stage.  Some of instrumental entries were very good indeed including a few from the leader.  Alapont brought a lightness and transparency to the comic scenes and a romantic richness of texture to the great love scenes.  Some of the entries from the chorus were not as tightly coordinated as they could be but with the need for social distancing in this production they did as well as could be expected.

I understand that Irish National Opera are recording this opera and it is due to be released next year.  Given the very calibre of all the performances I would encourage everyone to get hold of the recording when it becomes available.

Robert Beattie

Tickets to view this livestream are available up to 22 March 2021 via

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