La Boheme – Puccini at Grand Opera House, York

It’s odd how life works out sometimes isn’t it?  I haven’t been to see an opera for years and then see two within a couple of months!

This one was more familiar to me than the last one; I knew quite a bit of the music even though I’d forgotten chunks of the story.

I wouldn’t say the Company was the best opera company I have ever seen but both they and the orchestra were competent enough for it to be a pleasant evening.  I know that sounds as though I’m damning them with faint praise, I did enjoy myself, but mostly because I enjoyed letting the music swirl around and cocoon me rather than because I was engaged with what was happening on  stage.

The women played their parts well and, more to the point, looked like the young women they were portraying.  The most distracting part was Mimi working up to a crescendo looking, through her body movement, as though she was about to break out into the Zorba the Greek dance.

The men were a different kettle of fish.  The singing was good but they looked like prosperous middle-aged men rather than starving young artists living in a garret.

The costumes were a bit of a mish-mash too.  The men’s costumes were straightforward and simple.  Mimi looked as though she had strayed out of the Wizard of Oz with her blue dress and white apron.  Musetta started off looking great, then appeared in the most hideous dress I’ve ever seen on stage (including amateur productions) and finally in a black velvet number that had definitely seen better days.  I know operas are expensive to stage but I would have thought opera companies would know not to use black velvet, which never ages well.

I think what really made this opera farce rather than tragedy though was Mimi’s death-bed scene.  Until that point I had been going along with the story and accepting the cast in the characters they were playing.  Unfortunately, as Mimi was breathing her last farewell to Rodolfo and embracing him she slightly dislodged his toupee.  Not enough to create uproar and not enough for most people in the audience to notice it.  But I noticed and, predictably, got the giggles watching him try to straighten it surreptitiously.  I’m not sure whether the people sitting behind, watching my shoulders shaking, realised I was giggling or thought I was moved by Mimi dying.

To summarise, this is what you get from provincial touring opera companies; a pleasant evening without it being particularly engaging or thought-provoking.

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