Sweden Dala-Floda Opera Festival 2021  – Puccini, La bohème: Soloists, chorus and instrumental ensemble / Erik Solén (conductor), Björbo IOGT, Björbo, Sweden, 3.8.2021. (GF)
Stage director and Sets – Patrik Sörling
Rodolfo – Mads Wighus
Mimì – Paulina Pfeiffer
Marcello – Joa Helgesson
Musetta – Jessica Elevant
Schaunard – Samuel Jarrick
Colline – Joel Kyhle
Benoît / Alcindoro – Mattias Nilsson
The opening concert two days ago in Mockfjärd was not an unqualified hit. This year’s full-length opera, on the other hand, was a resounding success in every respect. The opera in question was Puccini’s immortal La bohème, a tear-jerker if ever there was one – and certainly sobs were heard and tears were shed during the last act. But the ensemble didn’t underplay the comic elements in the first and second acts and the beginning of the last. As usual, there was a local twist in the production, but a very discreet one, and no visitor without local connections could have minded. The Dala-Floda company always perform operas in the vernacular, and here the classic translation of the libretto of 1960 by the unofficial Swedish Poet Laureate Bo Setterlind was used – with very few deviations from the original. A full-size orchestra is impossible to fit in the venue in Björbo, some ten kilometres from Dala-Floda, but the phenomenal Jonas Dominique has reorchestrated the score for an octet, consisting of violin, double-bass, flute, clarinet, French horn, trumpet, trombone and accordion. Against all odds this worked superbly and one never missed the original. The playing of the experienced musicians was – as could only be expected – of the highest order. Stage director Patrik Sörling, who was also responsible for the sets, created a taut, intense and deeply emotional production with the dramatic temperature never below the boiling-point. The comic elements got their full value but never went over the top. With a cast of true singing-actors, the theatrical aspects were well catered to and, most important of all, they were all great singers as well.
The central romantic couple, Mimì and Rodolfo, are of course crucial for a successful performance, and here we had two trump cards, Paulina Pfeiffer and Mads Wighus. Paulina has been the prima donna in several of the productions at Dala-Floda Opera Festival and always stood out as a sensitive interpreter with magnetic stage presence, never over-acting but deeply involved. Here, as Mimì, she caught the shyness and vulnerability of the seamstress to perfection; so, the sudden infatuation and, in the third act, the sorrow and desperation. Her death scene was immensely moving. Her glowing singing in the arias and the love duet were highlights and, not to forget, the inwardness of the more intimate scenes. A Mimì who will long be remembered. Mads Wighus, who quite recently changed from baritone to tenor, sported a powerful lirico-spinto voice with brilliant, ringing top notes, but also the ability, just as his Mimì, to scale down and sing softly. The first act finale was a real treat.
The second couple, Musetta and Marcello, was also superb. Jessica Levant, who some years ago sang in the chorus, now returned as a consummate Musetta with brilliant singing and vivid acting. The waltz aria in the second act was spectacular in every sense, and in the final scene she was touchingly considerate towards Mimì. Joa Helgesson was a dynamic Escamillo in Carmen five years ago, and his Marcello, excellently sung, was a powder keg of emotions. The end of Act II was another spectacular moment: Joa simply clasped Jessica in his arms and carried her off stage, dancing all the while – a strong scene, in more than one respect!
Samuel Jarrick was an uncommonly charismatic Schaunard, a role that can often seem anonymous. But he made his mark at every entrance with distinction. Joel Kyhle, who also sang in Der Theaterdirektor, was a distinguished Colline and delivered a warm and inward coat aria, while Mattias Nilsson excelled in the comic cameos: Benoît in the first act and the rejected Alcindoro in the second act. The dancers and the small but excellent chorus also contributed to the overall success – and they also appeared several times, disguised as ‘Valborrar’, an old local tradition stemming from the ancient times when people still believed in witches and trolls. Here they gathered a last time around Mimì’s deathbed in an attempt to drive away her disease.
Of all the opera productions at the Dala-Floda Opera Festival over the years – and I have seen them all – this production stands out as the most sterling. An armful of roses to all involved!