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Published January 8, 2020

Fran Edwards’ re-imagining of Puccini’s La Boheme dazzles – – It’s stunning no denying it; but what we take away from this production seems to be merely no more than dazzle, not a note of anything more remains in one’s mind upon exiting the theatre. Perhaps shame on me, a mere millennial theatre critic, too fond of it’s rock vicissitude ‘Rent’ to unable to fully relish in Puccini’s internationally and historically revered score without longing for a guitar riff.

Edwards world expands and contorts with the intricacy of the score and story, finding few moments of stillness, that segue into glimmers of melodrama that creep from the skylight high above the stage and distastefully dance among the otherwise engaging direction. However, the placement of the work in Pre-World War Two Germany, allows the broken libretto to be masked behind the ominous rise of the Nazis and raises the stakes in a surprisingly complimentary way to the rest of the material, it’s this that reminds us of her genius.

Kang Wang, as Rodolfo, and Samuel Dundas as Marcello, carry us along splendidly and convincingly as a pair of struggling bohemian artists at loggerheads with life and love, their vocals are so powerful at points it’s memorising. Karah Son’s Mimi is refined, delicate and warm, providing the definitive heart of the work. Julie Lea Goodwin’s Musetta is brash and bold, her performance brings a welcome energy to her scenes. It’s a shame the rest of the cast do not get their own final moment in front of the audience, as they truly lift this production beyond it’s material.

The cast of Opera Australia’s production of La Bohème at the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Keith Saunders

The true stars of the production are the set; designed by Brian Thomson and costumes by Julie Lynch. Thomson’s decaying speigeltent, gleans from act to act, revolving and reinventing itself as the story unfurls in the most wonderful way. While one feels Lynch opened the doors to Opera Australia’s costume department and let the cast go ham in the 1930s section, but the result is simply stunning, while stated the work is set in dying days of the Weimer Republic, Lynch’s design gives the world a unique warmth, depth, and sense of perpetuity.

The Orchestra under the baton of Carlo Goldstein filled the air with the rich lavish and wonderfully executed sounds of Puccini. Sadly, the provided Surtitles are far too high in the auditorium, and too small on the screens off to the sides, for those less versed in opera, such as this reviewer, to absorb the story and become lost in Edwards world. Following the lyrics becomes a painful battle between the atlas vertebrae and the eyes.

La Boheme is sure to delight fans of Opera, and be a fine introduction for those less versed. With La Boheme, Opera Australia, proves why they don’t just lead nationally, but internationally in the artform.

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