It’s a breathless affair, Renaud Doucet and André Barbe’s helter-skelter La bohème for Scottish Opera. The effervescent director/designer duo set Puccini’s heart-tugging opera in the back street flea markets of 1920s Paris, where post-war poverty was countered by an irrepressible cosmopolitan bohemianism, where Cocteau rubbed shoulders with Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein with Ezra Pound, plenty Rodolfos played loose with plenty Mimis. This is about community, its fiery dynamics, its outrageous fingers-up to social taboos. At another level, it’s a reminder that death is no respecter of time and tide; once you’re gone, you’re gone. In this production, Mimi literally disappears from her deathbed.
Scottish Opera: La boheme ***
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
It’s the final surprise in an evening full of them. The frantic busyness veers close to sensory overload. The levels of detail – each character, principal or chorus, adult or child – has a relevance, some even modelled on historical figures. An accordion-accompanied cabaret set provides a mood-capturing prologue before Puccini proper bursts into life.
The cast doesn’t quite match up. Best of all is David Stout’s impassioned Marcello, but Luis Gomes’ lighter weight Rodolfo, Hye-Youn Lee’s unsweetened, stoical Mimi, even Jeanine De Bique’s outré Musetta, based on erotic Parisian diva Josephine Baker, all fall short in capturing the inner heat of Puccini’s expansive lyricism.
Furthermore, conductor Stuart Stratford’s expert milking of the orchestral score leads to much overheating in the pit. Sure, it’s wonderful to hear this music so effusively expressed, and laboured over with such intensity, but not to the extent that it dominates everything else.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until 20 May; His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, 25-27 May; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 31 May until 10 June; Eden Court, Inverness, 13-17 June