English Touring Opera at Hackney Empire
James Conway’s English Touring Opera, whose motto is ‘L’OPERA QUI BOUGE’, has just embarked on an extensive three-month tour of venues that rarely host operas, ranging from Crediton in the South West to Millom and Durham in the north, Norwich in the east and Eastbourne on the south east coast. Puccini Bohemian is one of the proposed works, using a superb re-orchestration for 27 instrumentalists by Bryan Higgins and conducted by the young Greek conductor Dionysis Grammenos. It is sung in Italian, but with non-obtrusive, sometimes very witty filtered simultaneous translation.
Designers Florence de Mare and Neil Irish imaginatively created four simple sets that immediately set the mood while being easy for the actors to use, aided by Rory Beaton’s inventive lighting and snow effects.
However, what really elevates this production to a very high level is the acting and singing quality of most of the actors.
The four “bohemian” friends are real singing actors, all of whom are totally believable in their roles. Brazilian Luciano Botelho as the poet Rodolpho reveals a magnificent tenor with barely a sign of tension on the highest notes, Michel de Souza’s rich, steady baritone is the embodiment of the painter, Marcello, and Schaunard, the musician, is strongly represented by Themba Mvula. The bass, Hill, Philosopher, features heavily in his fourth-act “Coat” tune, and the minor but important role of landlord Benoit is played by Matthew McKinney, portrayed as a much younger and healthier man than habit.
Mimi, whose small hand is certainly frozen in the dreary setting of the first act, is played with emotion by Francesca Chiejina, who gradually builds the role until she has totally succeeded in making us feel involved in her destiny and that of by Rodolfo. Audiences across England should feel very privileged to be able to hear the quality of musicianship that is evident in this production from these young singers.
Other cast members include Robert Lewis as an amusing “Pa’Guignol”, April Koyejo-Audiger as Musetta and a very loud choir of eighteen adults, as well as an excellent choir of in act two – not only can youngsters sing, they can also sing and lead!
This is a superb, thoroughly enjoyable, moving and engaging production of Puccini’s classic opera that I cannot recommend highly enough, especially perhaps for those new to opera. English Touring Opera is in Hackney Empire until March 5 – after that the closest to London are Eastbourne and Cambridge. Go see it and judge for yourself, that’s my advice!
Review by John Groves
Puccini’s famous opera, La Bohème, about a poet who falls in love with a devouring seamstress, is a cultural reference throughout the world; “a poignant memory in the music of love and loss – like a mirror shard in which one sees one’s youth,” as English Touring Opera (ETO) Artistic Director James Conway describes it.
ENGLISH TOUR OPERA Spring season:
La Bohème by Puccini, The Golden Cockerel by Rimsky-Korsakov,
Bach’s St. John Passion and a film from Il Pianto di Maria by Ferrandini