At the Palace for the first time in many a year, Ellen Kent has brought her tried and tested touch with classic operas back again, this time with mainly Ukrainian singers, new to us, and a mainly Moldovan orchestra.
Her La Bohème tells the story with bold strokes – never mind that it’s supposed to be happening in the 1830s and the Eiffel Tower wasn’t built till 1889: this set has the tower in every backdrop, because it’s Paris, for goodness sake!
The set for the opening and final scenes has an over-the-rooftops view which is evocative of a garret for starving students, even if there’s little sign of a ceiling over their heads, and the lighting is that of summer sunlight even though the first scene is on Christmas Eve and the last in springtime (something the words and music make much of and which should really be shown in any staging).
But the mid-winter scene at the city gates (Act 3) looks cold all right, and there’s a positive blizzard of stage snow during it to underline the point.
La Bohème is such a brilliant piece of musical writing that its spell works in almost any version. No one has ever quite caught the magic of young, dawning love as Puccini did in the two big arias and duet for doomed, beautiful seamstress Mimí and young poet Rodolfo as they meet each other by candle light.
It does need a soprano and tenor who can seem to be young and in love, and Alyona Kistenyova and Vitalii Liskovestkyi had a real go at doing that. Their voices are fully operatically trained (both hit the top Cs at the end of O Soave Fanciulla) and project plenty of tone.
The other male Bohemians (Iurie Gisca as Marcello, Oleksandr Forkushak as Schaunard and Vadym Chernihovskyi as Colline) played their parts well, though Gisca, one of Ellen Kent’s long-serving principals from Moldovan National Opera days, has done this many times before. Eugeniu Ganea was a good comic turn as Benoit and Alcindoro.
But the singer who stole the show was Olga Perrier, as Musetta. The French soprano has appeared with Ellen Kent before in this role, and she had the extrovert personality and complete commitment to character that make the coquette, in some ways, a more interesting personality than the pure and dying heroine, Mimí. And her voice was the best on the stage.
There’s always something new to be mined in a piece so rich as La Bohème, and hopefully Ellen Kent will once again have introduced this wonderful work to many opera novices in a very respectably filled house.