Opera Review: La Bohème @ Coliseum

By Londonist Last edited 90 months ago
Opera Review: La Bohème @ Coliseum

La Boheme_2_credit Tristram Kenton.jpg
Image by Tristram Kenton

La bohème may be one of the most frequently performed operas in the world but it remains deceptively difficult to stage. This is because the story of Parisian artists glimpsing love amidst cold and hunger requires human frailty to be reconciled with Puccini's ethereal score.

In his production for the English National Opera Jonathan Miller does not shy away from the challenge. By moving the action forward a century to 1930s depression-soaked Paris, he ups the stakes by making the characters even more human and hence the gulf to be bridged that much wider.

But he succeeds with the aid of Isabella Bywater's sets that combine the magic of Christmas Eve with the drudgery of Parisian slums and the realism of a modest first-floor flat. The ensemble dynamic is also strong as the youths boot their landlord down the stairs, and propel the scene where they dine out with strong visual gestures.

Gwyn Hughes Jones and Elizabeth Llewellyn have marvellous chemistry as the lovers, Rodolfo and Mimi. Hughes Jones has amazing vocal presence while Llewellyn demonstrates both innocence and understanding in her fine acting and powerful singing. As Musetta, Mairead Buicke's voice possesses enough of a piercing quality to befit the character's feisty nature, yet remains sufficiently rounded in tone. In the pit, Stephen Lord elicits passion and intensity from the orchestra while maintaining a balanced and controlled sound.

When Miller's production first appeared in February 2009, it captured the ensemble dynamic well but the singing was of a lower standard. This time around it has nailed the whole package.

Until 27 January (thirteen performances).Tickets: 0871 911 02000 or from the ENO website. Alfie Boe plays Rodolfo on 22, 25 and 27 January

by Samuel Smith.

Last Updated 19 October 2010


Hilarious performance Friday night (12/11) - poor Gwyn Hughes Jones injured his back during the day and was unable to come to the theatre so at the (very) last minute Peter Auty took over as Rodolfo.

However, whilst Mr Auty had played the part many times, he was unfamiliar with the rather crude Amanda Holden* translation used by ENO, so broke their tradition by singing his part in Italian whilst his fellow Bohemians sang English.

Tremendous ovation for him at the end, because his performance was (a) faultless and (b) showed how much nicer Puccini sounds in Italian than with English vowels.

Some of the cheap seats who couldn't see the surtitles were a bit narked, but otherwise it was a glorious evening.

* btw it’s a different Amanda Holden from the botox-faced ex-Mrs Les Dennis on Britain’s Got No Talent, but to be honest this libretto was so crude it might as well have been!

Trivium: aged 13, Peter Auty was the original recording artist of 'Walking In The Air' for the movie 'The Snowman' and later much popularised by Aled Jones. Auty was not credited on the original prints, only when the movie was digitally remastered in 2002.