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La Boheme

Giacomo Puccini/translation by Amanda Holden

Performance date: 18 Nov 2014

Venue: The Electric Theatre, Guildford, Surrey

Reviewer: Chris Abbott (Sardines Magazine)

It is not often that audiences get the chance to see opera in a small auditorium, with a an 11-piece orchestra and a cast of excellent singers, but that is what Guildford Opera Company provided with Kevin John’s production of La Boheme.

The Electric Theatre in Guildford is an excellent venue for audiences, comfortable, with good sight lines and audibility, and these assets were well-utilised by the performers. The orchestra under Musical Director Kevin Griffin were of a high quality without ever overwhelming the voices from the stage, and the chorus, although not having that much to do in this show, were nevertheless effective throughout, with evidence of character work having been developed through rehearsals.

The addition of a children’s chorus adds greatly to such a piece, especially when they are as well-rehearsed and animated as these young people proved to be. The children deserved their separate bow before going home in the interval, although this took the audience by surprise as many of them were on the way to the bar by the time the curtains re-opened.

The lead parts were taken by six experienced and expert performers who were more than up to the challenge, and it is good to see Guildford Opera giving opportunities to younger performers who have trained recently as well as to others who are seasoned participants. Derek S. Henderson was an imposing Colline, particularly in his later solos, and Matthew Palmer as Schaunard is a young singer who made his mark on the production from his first entrance, his animated expressions and stage presence showing confidence and authority. Richard Arundel’s Marcello managed to paint convincingly and sing beautifully at the same time, and Laura Cheetham’s Musetta proved to be a welcome debut with the company, with many in the audience very impressed by her singing – and her costumes.

In the lead roles, Randy Nichol as Rodolfo and Hannah Kirk as Mimi were well-matched and made a convincing pair of lovers. The final sections of Act IV, in particular, were beautifully sung by them and held the audience in total silence, although the final curtain came rather suddenly and could perhaps be a little slower to savour the sadness of the moment.

Kevin John’s production was authoritative and necessarily busy in the chorus scenes, as well as providing a convincing portrait of this group of starving, shivering friends in their Parisian garret. That shivering in this most wintry of operas was well portrayed in the scarfs and cloaks worn by the cast but rather belied by the sunny atmosphere suggested by the lighting; perhaps a little more wintry blue or white would have helped the overall atmosphere? However, it may be that the capabilities of the venue restricted the possibilities.

The sets too were not always helpful; props and furniture were in keeping, although at such close quarters real candles would have been more effective, but the painted flats were really not needed – although the more expertly painted backcloth for the Cafe Momus scene was in keeping with the setting. The garret could have been suggested by a roof piece alone – although without the black gaffer tape on show here. Better perhaps to rely on furniture and costumes alone, and thus speed up the scene changes?

The excellent costumes, of course, were once more under the control of Kris Benjafield (a saviour not just for this company but for others across Surrey), and provided the colour and atmosphere needed to conjure up fin-de-siecle Paris.

The economics of performing opera in such a small venue must mean it is impossible to hire sets but the way in which the company has built up its Costume department means that the look of the productions continues to impress. Long may Guildford Opera Company continue to present such high quality opera in such an accessible venue.

La Boheme Reviews

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