La bohème: The Welsh National Opera
Updated: May 29
Review: La bohème, The Welsh National Opera, New Theatre, Oxford, last performance Saturday 3 December. Buy tickets here.
[Disclosure: I received free tickets, free drinks, as well as a free programme for the purposes of this review.]
The Welsh National Opera’s autumn touring season is coming to a close, with one final performance of Puccini’s La bohème in Oxford on Saturday night. The WNO’s tour to Oxford is always a cultural highlight because every aspect of a WNO production is carefully thought through with upmost respect for the audience, and the music.
Rodolfo, the writer and Marcello, the painter, in their freezing attic, in Paris' Latin Quarter.
The story of La bohème, or the Bohemian, is based on the semi-autobiographical stories written by French author Henri Murger about the exploits of his group of idealistic friends. Artists, writers and musicians flocked to the Latin quarter in Paris during the mid 1800s to live a “bohemian” lifestyle – eschewing the mundane and living life fabulously, often in extreme poverty.
The four friends, living a carefree, poverty stricken, artistic lifestyle.
Each “bohemian” single mindedly pursued their extraordinary destiny of artistic fame and fortune, though still having time and energy for dramatic, star crossed and often tragic love affairs.
Mimi, played by Anush Hovhannisyan and Rodolfo, played by Luis Gomes. Somehow, their on stage chemistry lacked a little bit of lustre.
Every aspect of the story of La bohème is based on something that actually happened to Murger or his friends (including the central tragic love story) during the 1850s, in the Latin Quarter in Paris. That is why I think the opera does best when staged traditionally, as the WNO has done. We are presented with the requisite attic apartment, and the thriving and very realistic Latin quarter with all its eccentric inhabitants. The whole production evokes a freezing Parisian winter, and the joy of being young and idealistic.
Mimi and Rodolfo, going for a night out.
All the singers execute their parts well, though to me, the real stand out performance was Argentinian baritone, Germán Enrique Alcántara. Alcántara plays Marcello, a friend of the tragically doomed lovers Mimi and Rodolfo – whose story forms the central narrative arc of the whole opera.
Alcántara, on the far left, played Marcello.
Alcántara's performance was so humous, tender, and nuanced, as well as being musically exquisite that, despite La bohème being one of my favourite operas, I began to hope that Mimi would leave Rodolfo for Marcello. That may have been a happily ever after. La bohème though, has no happy endings – happy endings and exquisite, heart rending arias don’t seem to go together very well.
At 2 hours and 20 minutes (including the 20 minute interval) – you don’t need practiced stamina to enjoy the WNO’s La bohème. This means that it’s a wonderful first opera, as well as being a genuine cultural treat for anyone feeling demotivated by the rapidly approaching winter. The WNO’s production of La bohème allows you to just sit, and enter into the drama and passion of the Parisian Latin Quarter and, like the bohemians, eschew the mundane, for a few hours at least.
If you enjoyed reading this opera review, you might enjoy reading my other opera reviews, which you can find here.