Barefoot Opera: La Boheme

St Mary in the Castle, Saturday 30 September 2017

La Boheme returned to St Mary in the Castle last Saturday with new principle singers. The difference it made demonstrated both the strength of Jenny Miller’s production and the impact of the singers themselves. American tenor, Andrew McGowan, was a youthful, naïve and impetuous Rudolfo. There were no problems at the top of the voice and he brought a heady romanticism to his wooing of Mimi. For once the on-off relationship made perfect sense, and his desolation at her death was truly moving.

Lucy Ashton, who sang Pamina for us last year in Opera South East’s production of The Magic Flute, was outstanding as Mimi. Her openness of manner and honest emotions caught the complexity of Mimi’s character, and her singing throughout was finely focused and moving.

The rest of the cast may have been familiar from the earlier performance with Oscar Castellino a fine Marcello and the instrumental ensemble splendidly well balanced.

St Mary in the Castle, Friday 8 September 2017

It is easy to forget that La Boheme is essentially an intimate work. The voices may be large but the emotions are very personal. The great strength of Jenny Miller’s new production for Barfoot Opera is that it drew on these realities and made them the heart of the evening. The umbrellas and the hints of prostitution which underpin the story were very effective. Added to this was one of the finest small ensembles supporting the work.  It was a stroke of genius to include Milos Milosovic on the accordion, its gently melancholic tones being absolutely in tune with the unfolding pathos of the drama.

The majority of the cast was strongly characterised with the women being particularly impressive. Sarah Foubert as Mimi was able to combine a genuine sense of consumption with a radiant top to the voice and her act three aria was thrilling. Elaine McDaid’s Musetta was equally strongly characterised and a perfect foil to Oscar Castellino’s well rounded and persuasive Marcello.

Laurence Panter seemed miscast as Rudolfo. He had difficulty with the tessitura of the role and often seemed hesitant musically. His acting was firm and convincing throughout and it may be that he would impress more positively under other circumstances.

Mathew Thistleton’s Colline and Tim Patrick’s Benoit were both positive presences, and there can surely be few like Andrew Sparling, able to double Shaunard perfectly convincingly with solo clarinet in the ensemble. His obbligato opening to Musetta’s quando m’en vo was masterly and totally apt.

Inevitably there were some cuts, acceptable in act two given the lack of children on stage but unfortunate in act three which lost its structure at the start. Thankfully the quartet was emotionally as challenging as it should be and became the climax of the evening.

Barefoot Opera return on 11 November with Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea.

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