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ENO’s La Bohème offers a wonderful new twist on an old favourite – South London News

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By Christopher Walker

The ENO’s Bohème is radically different. Korean star David Junghoon Kim and the sophisticated Sinead Campbell Wallace give the love affair between Rodolfo and Mimi a very new twist.

Jonathan Miller’s production resets the action in the Paris of the 1930’s, complete with cross dressing prostitutes – but everything is executed with top class professionalism and the results are wonderful.

Puccini’s magic ensures there’s not a dry eye in the house.

One thing that is not unusual is for Bohème to be sung in English.

The first performance of the opera outside of Italy in Europe was in fact in Manchester in 1897 in English. Likewise Puccini himself supervised a production in London in 1920 also in English.

The drama is certainly conveyed more easily in the audience’s language, provided the singers annunciate clearly.

Bohème is an enduring classic. Over 500 tenors have recorded arias from the opera, and it even inspired the musical Rent, where the lead sings “Light My Candle.”

Like many of Puccini’s works, Bohème does not have a coherent narrative but is rather a series of glimpses into the lives of the central characters.

In this case a group of impoverished artists living in the bohemian quarter of Paris. As such it is true to Henri Murger’s original novel, itself a collection of vignettes, although many of the characters are combined in the opera.

Starving poet Rodolfo loops in a Parisian Garret with the painter Marcelo, the musician Schaunard and the philosopher Colline.

Money is in short supply, and they are always hungry and cold. Into Rodolfo’s life comes Mimi a seamstress who’s also cold and hungry and who’s candle has burned out.

Their passion is captured in some of Puccini’s most beautiful music.

Jealousy is a major theme in the opera, though it is always hard to understand between Mimi and Rodolfo until you realize that there is a missing scene that was eliminated in the final version.

The performances are universally strong. This is especially true of the two female leads.

Sinead Campbell Wallace, in a matronly wig, brings a ‘knowingness’ to her portrayal of the ingenue Mimi, which may have something to do with her years in teaching.

Nonetheless, her singing is so strong we must be grateful she abandoned the classroom and returned to the stage.

Musetta, Marcelo’s girlfriend, played by the excellent Louise Alder, brings the house down when she complains of her pinching shoe and addresses an aria to Marcello. Also a very strong voice.

Rodolfo is played by the South Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim, and it is a nice touch by the revival director Crispin Lord that the South Korean flag adorns his ‘dorm room.’ He injects the role of Rodolfo with just the right amount of naivety.

Charles Rice is particularly strong as Marcello the painter, and newcomer William Thomas is quite outstanding as Colline the philosopher. His deep and powerful voice makes one long for him to play even bigger roles. He is a star in the making.

Benson Wilson plays Schaunard, the musician with pathos.

There are many wonderful touches to this production. It’s difficult to know whether these are due to the original director Jonathan Miller or to the revival director Crispin Lord.

One of these is the vision of a wide berthed prostitute standing on a freezing street corner, a clear reference to a famous Parisian photograph.

Another is the engaging comedy of Simon Butteriss who cleverly plays both Benoit the artist’s grasping landlord, and Alcindoro, Musetta’s sugar daddy.

For a new twist on an old favourite, do go.

Tickets can be found here: https://www.eno.org

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