Once again, the Glyndebourne Touring production has arrived in Liverpool, and again it has not disappointed. Puccini’s La Bohème is the story of four young bohemians, a poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher, struggling to survive a cold winter in Paris. A chance encounter brings Mimi to their door seeking candlelight and a tragic love story begins. Blighted by poverty, Rodolfo cannot provide for Mimi who is desperately ill and heartbreak ensues. Staged in the 1940s, yet as if in an atmospheric French black and white photograph, this beautifully young, diverse cast challenges everything I thought I knew about opera.
Stalked by death and staged in a cobbled street that vanishes into darkness and despair, the incredible simple, yet atmospheric hints of the café and the Parisian garret allow the characters and their music to shine. Mimi (Gabriella Reyes) sings her despair and terror with captivating warmth. Rodolfo (Bekhod Davronov) a youthful, sweet tenor offers a performance full of love. The captivating individual performances are beautifully held by the subtle orchestral sounds.
Despite not knowing much about opera, I did recognise some of the music, and was happy to be informed that these are some of the best loved pieces in the opera world. A wonderful duet between Mimi and Rodolfo, ‘O soave fanciulla’ meaning ‘Oh lovely girl in the moonlight’ soared from the stage. Rodolfo’s famous introductory aria ‘Che gelida manina’ meaning ‘Your tiny hand is frozen’ also drew rapturous applause from the audience.
Perhaps my favourite moment, was at the beginning of Act 3, the dark street, beautiful falling snowflakes twinkling in the lights and the soulful sympathetic orchestra as Mimi and Rodolfo agree to wait until the flowers of spring to end their ill-fated love story.
As I say, I’m clearly no opera expert – and thankfully the Glyndebourne cast made it really clear that I didn’t need to be. They have gone out of their way to make it inviting and accessible – without making it dumbed down or insincere. And really you could tell in the mix of the audience that what they are doing is working. My perception of a theatre full of old white people was very much not the reality. Like the cast, the audience was young and diverse. It was exciting to be there and it didn’t make me feel like I was playing at being a grown up.