A Truly Bohemian Rhapsody.

La Boheme

Theatre Severn

4th May 2016

Opera fans and first timers piled into Theatre Severn tonight to share in the welcome return of The Swansea City Opera and their adaptation of Puccini’s La Boheme.

Originally  the Opera was set in early nineteenth century Paris.  Artistic Director, Brendan Wheatley brought it a little nearer in time and set it in nineteen forty-five Paris.

 The war was over the Germans had been defeated. Winston and De Gaulle has walked as brothers down the Champs Elysees. France was itself consumed with revenge on the collaborators and trying to recover. The picture to the rest of the world was one of victory.  However the poor as after every war, win or not,  were hungry and they were cold. Wheatley brilliantly spotted the parities and showed us that in 100 years of man’s civilisation not much had changed for the poor.

The show opened with a delightful scene as we meet our four Bohemian room-mates. Poet Rodolfo, Marcello a painter, Schanaurd a Musician and Philosopher, Colline. All tortured souls just as every Artist needs to be.

Tracing the love lives of Rodolfo as he is captured in the beauty of Mimi an impoverished Seamstress;  and social climber Musetta,  a female singer. We see as she plays her rich American army officer husband Alcindoro, against starving painter  Marcello.  Needless to say tangled webs are weaved in a story of deception, love and tragedy.

Initially there was great levity and an hilarious moment when the three friends had all agreed to being broke and cold burned the first act of Randolfo’s play to keep warm. But in comes Schanaurd laden with cash and food as he has earned some money playing in the town for a rich man’s parrot. The job was to last until the parrot died. Sadly it was a short but fruitful engagement.

Putting the narrative to one side we turn our attention to design. Mr. Wheatley has been busy not only was he Artistic Director but the set was his design too. It is that design that is so crucial.

Sometimes when watching an opera unfold, whilst it can be a wonderful experience the storyline may get lost. Why? There are many reasons, clarity of vocal, balance against the orchestra and the overall design. But in truth Opera is a restrictive discipline; everything needs to be presented in song.  Consequently semiotics or signs are an important part of the show and it is the designer’s job to reflect those signs and gestures to help. Where an actor may normally use a dialogue to move forward an opera singer may not.

So the question presents itself, how does one receive the information to make the event work: It is down to costume, movement, body gestures and crucially, design.

Swansea City Opera are so strong in this department offering up wonderfully simplistic sets, stylised but totally readable. The set for La Boheme is back-dropped by a montage of photographs of 1945 post war Paris. The montage fills the entire upstage wall. In front of this are two large stylised window frames and the stage was bare except for a few pieces of furniture. It was then that one sees the importance of design and semiotics.

The CVs of the cast make such impressive reading and all those years of experience are clear to see as Altos, Tenors and Soprano voices soar and dance with the wonderful music provided from the pit by the excellent Swansea City Opera Orchestra under the masterly swishes of John Beswick's conductor's baton..

It is always such a difficult job to name names. To pick out the ones for special mention. When the whole cast is golden it’s difficult to judge who glistens most. That said the beauty, the strength and the power of Rebecca Goulden’s  Mimi, was something that one won’t forget in a hurry. If a singer can bring tears of emotion to the eye of this steely reviewer she must be doing something right.

Likewise Martin Quinn gets a special mention for his wonderfully comic portrayal of the French Waiter. He was a jewel. For the whole of scene one , act two, he was the busiest man on the stage. He didn’t upstage anybody as this is a team piece and all sides are equal, but he enhanced the scene no end with his hilarious characterisation. Highly entertaining.

The work of the Swansea City Opera is crucial. They are presenting Opera in an accessible and fun way. They can deliver humour as cleverly as they deliver pathos.

Noticeably they are seeing all generations in their audiences and the fact is, they have a talent for demystifying Opera and presentering it back to all the people regardless of class, age or creed they put Opera out there:  And that is  exactly where it should be. Long may they continue.

This is a four star review.

Owen J.Lewis 

Section:

Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

Read More from Owen Lewis