Opera Review: La Bohéme is all at once decadent and tragic at the Sydney Opera House

A world of starving artists, love at first sight, decadence and jealousy – so sets the scene for Puccini’s formidable La Bohéme. The performance begins with four friends, each a poor artist, struggling to survive another winter. By the end of the first act Rodolfo, a poet, has fallen in love with Mimí, a seamstress, and suddenly the world seems warm again.

Act two, potentially the most visually stunning of the evening, is set in Café Momus – a beautiful world of velvet, drinking and scantily clad women. It is here we meet the vivacious Musetta, ex-lover to Marcello, an artist. The stunning rendition of Musetta’s Waltz here is a highlight, with Anna Princeva effectively stealing the entire act. By the acts end the two lovers are reunited and again, all appears to be well in the world for our young couples.

But this is an Opera, and in the world of Opera the course of love never did run smooth. By act three jealousies have erupted and the couples are fractured, in particular Mimí can no longer cope with Rodolfo’s jealousy and he dismisses her despite knowing she is gravely ill. This act is particularly interesting as we see clearly the change made by Director Gale Edwards to set La Bohéme in 1930s Berlin. It is evidently the early stages of the Third Reich, as soldiers with red arm bands patrol the stage. This is a clever and interesting choice of setting, stepping away from the original choice of the Latin Quarter of Paris in 1830 – but it works.

As the fourth act begins we see the dejected lovers feeling sorry for themselves back at their artist’s studio. When Musetta and Mimí appear, with the latter clearly dying, all try to do what they can to save her – that is all but Rodolfo who, for all his professions of love, is the last to notice that she has died. His careless existence saw him turn his back on love and ensured he was unable to save it.

The strength of La Bohéme lies in its female leads. Joyce El-Khoury is heartbreaking as Mimí, the tragic yet beautiful figure who has a profound effect on everyone she meets but ultimately not even love can save her from a terrible end. Anna Princeva dazzles as Musetta, her commanding presence on stage drawing your attention and hypnotizing you with her enormous talent.

Credit needs to be given to the set design and costuming. The staging of act two was without fault and incredibly clever, with the attention to detail of the Café Momus – flawless. When Musetta arrives draped in a glorious cloak, audible gasps could be heard from the audience – it was stunning. Both aspects were crucial for truly capturing the world envisioned by Edwards and form as integral a part of the overall performance as the singers.

La Bohéme is a captivating and cautionary tale of the dangers of an idealistic existence, demonstrating that pride so often does come before a fall, but what they don’t tell you, is it may not be you who falls.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

La Bohéme is playing at the Sydney Opera House until 28th March. For tickets and more details about the production, head HERE.

The reviewer attended the production on the 3rd January, 2019.

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