Opera + Classical Music Reviews

La bohème @ Grange Park Opera, Alresford

6, 11, 14, 19, 27 June, 11, 17 July 2015

Gianluca Terranova & Susana Gaspar (Photo: Robert Workman)

Gianluca Terranova & Susana Gaspar
(Photo: Robert Workman)

In the face of competition from the final run of the classic, starrily-cast John Copley production at the Royal Opera House, Grange Park as usual goes its own way with a production of La bohème which takes a different tack and which at first sight looks over-sparse but soon shows its true, if muted, colours as a straightforward staging designed to showcase singing which, in some cases, would not be out of place in much larger houses.

It’s not often that a review will begin with Rodolfo’s fellow garret-dwellers, but in Brett Polegato’s Marcello, Quirijn de Lang’s Schaunard and Nicholas Crawley’s Colline we had as fine a trio as you could wish for. Polegato especially gave a finely sung, rounded and sympathetic performance; his forthcoming Onegin here should be fascinating. Gianluca Terranova certainly has the notes for Rodolfo although he may not be to everyone’s taste in that he has a tendency to sound a little strident at forte, but it’s always a joy to hear a real Italian voice in this role.

Susana Gaspar was a sweet-voiced Mimì in the best sense of that phrase, since there was nothing saccharine about her performance; she had been skilfully directed to create a sensitive girl who loves dreams and fancies but is still capable of asserting her individuality. Kelebole Besong was an alluring Musetta, not so much the brash coquette with a heart of gold as the sixth member of the bohemians, an impression created by the warmth of her tone and her seductive phrasing.

Stephen Barlow conducted a vibrant, passionate account of the score, obtaining committed playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and supporting the singers sympathetically, although there were a few moments when the brass overwhelmed some of the voices.

Stephen Medcalf’s concept is very much on the spare, bleak side of production style: there is little attempt at realism – no falling snow, for example, and not much in the way of atmosphere in the Café Momus scene – so the focus is on the intimacy of the duets and ensembles. One might balk at the ‘let’s do the show right here’ style of the set – flats with scrawled inscriptions, more pieces of furniture on the ceiling than the stage – but in this exceptionally intimate auditorium it makes sense to frame the singers with as little fuss as possible.

It’s not a production to equal their very best (such as last year’s Peter Grimes) but in its very simplicity it makes an ideal introduction to the work. Atmospherically lit by Paul Keogan, the most effective scenes are those such as the prelude to Mimì’s death where the two principals sing so touchingly of their happy memories and we are prepared for the imminent sorrow as Mimi sings that Rodolfo should have called her “as beautiful as the sunset” and not the dawn.

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