This weekend I had the lucky opportunity to see La Boheme, of HeadFirst Productions. I saw the production at LOST Theatre in South London and was quite impressed. The composer was one Kelvin Lim and the Opera was Directed by Sophie GIlpin and designed by Jason Southgate.
The Opera was led by 4 musicians. At first I was concerned at how thin the textures might be musically given the acoustics. On the other hand it sort of reminded me of how this presented a very authentic and historically resonant challenge as a performer. At times the singers matched the fortes and fortissimos and the less said about a high latency digital piano against an acoustic one the better! The instrumentation was daring and scoring worked sufficiently well.
I was impressed at the power of the characters. Although I do not find the story of La Boheme as convincing as a tragedy and love story, the farcical nature of parts of it were excellently carried by the ensemble. I could tangibly grasp the 19th century cultural Italian humour of it and in some ways, even if I may critique or challenge it, I must say it does very much chime in with the blokey bravado and the men of our age and, perhaps many of us know a Musetta in our own lives.
I was taken by the technical prowess of Mimi’s vibrato, which definitely moved the audience. Basses were very powerful too. I couldn’t help but consider this production more of an etude or technical study, of how to overcome space and time. In this regard of space, they succeeded in making a very small musical ensemble fill the acoustics of the physical space, I think that the doubling (in terms of scoring) role of the Clarinet worked spectacularly. The use of an Eb (sopranino) clarinet was masterful.
In trying to bridge a gap of time, however, between 19th Century Italy and today? I think the verdict of the audience was that of a success. In most of the press releases about this production, the ending is already given away: Mimi’s death is not of TB but of a drug related incident. As the story reaches its end, it begins to seem very dark and less like the 19th Century but more the malaise of our present day. I was not sure of the use of modern substance abuse as a supplanting theme to the 19th Century artist-hero archetypes that La Boheme explores, in doing so it tells a different but perhaps more important story. Furthermore, I was kind of thrown off a bit at the use of actual cigarettes on the stage! I initially thought they were vaping ones but there were actual roll ups! Not a good time to be given an inhaler for the first time this week I must say.