Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

Review: World premiere of La Boheme is a treat in Oman

With a few tweaks on and off the stage, this coproduction between the Royal Opera House Muscat and Opera De Monte-Carlo can go global

Irina Lungu, Giorgio Berrugi and Giovanni Romeo star as as Rodolfo, Mimi and Schuanard in La Boheme. Courtesy: Khalid AlBusaidi, ROHM.
Irina Lungu, Giorgio Berrugi and Giovanni Romeo star as as Rodolfo, Mimi and Schuanard in La Boheme. Courtesy: Khalid AlBusaidi, ROHM.

A new version of Puccini’s La Boheme was staged in Oman.

Led by the acclaimed star soprano Irina Lungu, the new co-production between the Royal Opera House Muscat and Opera De Monte-Carlo was well-realised and contained enough developments to keep the most seasoned La Boheme fan engaged.

The biggest change in the new version – held on Thursday, October 4 – was in subtly shifting the period in which the story is told.

Where the original production, based on Henri Murger’s 1851 collection of short stories Scenes de la vie Boheme, is set in the 1840s, this co-production fast forwards to the Parisian winter in 1945 and 1946.

This means were are in post-war France, a time marked with the anxiety and promise for a new future. All of which are encapsulated in La Boheme’s main cast of youthful dreamers; the wide-eyed poet Rodolfo (Giorgio Berrugi), the brooding artist Marcello (Gabriel Bermudez), the talented singer Musetta (Mariam Battistelli), the philosopher Colline (George Andguladze) and the violinist Schuanard (Giovanni Romeo).

Their joie de vivre, particularly highlighted in the infectious opening number Questo Mar Rosso, is quietly shattered with the arrival of Mimi (Irina Lingu). Rodolfo immediately falls in love with the sickly flower maker and the impending tragedy results in bitter truths for all involved.

A strong cast

The production is mostly successful and a lot of that is is down the cast giving their all. La Boheme is a deceptively difficult challenge for most performers. On top of the expectations that comes from taking on a crowd favourite, the opera requires a deep range to complement the vast emotional terrain covered.

Over the space of two and a half hours, the characters go through all the feels, from the joy of youth, the hopelessness of poverty, the anxiety of unexpected love and ultimately the tragedy and reality of death.

Simply put, this is not a production for wallflowers and the seasoned cast embraced it all with verve.

Lungu, who was renowned for her Musetta in previous high profile productions at London’s Covent Garden and New York’s Metropolitan Opera, is soulful as Mimi. She gives the character a certain serenity and acceptance that only amplifies her tragic situation.

Meanwhile, Berrugi is simply electrifying as Rodolfo. He moves from fun romantic machismo upon meeting Mimi, before digging deep to summon the pain as he witnesses his love withering away.

The last act, where he lies beside Mimi as she perishes, is truly heart breaking. When he laments about the loss of “my brief youth”, we ache with him. Most of us have felt that life-changing moment where we are forced to take on a new road.

How do you like your Musetta served?

The only gripe I have with the uniformly strong cast is Battistelli’s Musetta. Then again, discussions regarding this character are similar to debating about salads. Some like their Musetta played strong with spice, while others prefer a lighter and nuanced touch.

I belong to the former school of thought, in that Musetta needs to be a fireball of passion. Her tempestuous nature not only explains her stormy relationship with the gregarious Marcello, but it also goes to high light her character’s central anxiety surrounding love and acceptance.

While her voice was buoyant and her flamboyant gowns show-stopping, Battistelli’s Musetta was too timid. At times, it made me wonder why Marcello was putting up with her shenanigans in the first place.

La Boheme is a co-production by the Royal Opera House Muscat and Opera De Monte-Carlo. Courtesy: Khalid AlBusaidi, ROHM.
La Boheme is a co-production by the Royal Opera House Muscat and Opera De Monte-Carlo. Courtesy: Khalid AlBusaidi, ROHM.

Staging could use a tweak

Another aspect that needs to be rectified was the scene transition in the final act. While the production’s overall set design was elegant yet minimal – after all, the 500 seater Opera de Monte-Carlo is known and loved for its intimacy – and made good use of video projection, the set change from winter to spring, before the final scene was so long the crowd stirred uncomfortably.

This kink will surely be ironed out by the second and final performance in Muscat on Saturday, October 5.

As a coproduction, the Royal Opera House Muscat have done a fine job in collaborating with Opera De Monte-Carlo. Both institutions are similar in dynamism and global ambitions. With some minor tweaks, on and off the stage, their La Boheme definitely has legs for a potential world tour of mid-level venues that all opera lovers can enjoy.

La Boheme will be performed at the Royal Opera House, Muscat, Oman, on Saturday, October 5, at 7pm. Tickets from OMR10 (Dh95) are available at www.rohmuscat.org.om

Updated: October 4, 2019 04:59 PM

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