Sunday, March 25, 2018

LA BOHEME - Handa Opera on the Harbour

By Giacomo Puccini

Directed by: Andy Morton -  Conducted by:  Brian Castles-Onion
Set and Costumes designed by: Dan Potra – Lighting designed by Matthew MarshallChoreographed by: Kate Champion – Sound Designed by Tony David Cray
Video designed by: Marco Devetak
Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquaries Point until 22nd April 2018
Opening night performance on 23rd March reviewed by Bill Stephens

Part of the setting for  the HOSH production of "La Boheme" 

1968 was an eventful year. An exhibition currently on show at the National Library of Australia commemorates the 50th Anniversary of when the Library opened its doors to the public in 1968.  It was the same year in which riots swept through the Latin Quarter in Paris almost bringing the government to its knees. It is also the year chosen by Andy Morton and his designer, Dan Potra, for the setting of their production of the “La Boheme”, in which the riots are referenced in the third act which takes place in a street strewn with rubble and car wrecks, one of which is still burning.

Julia Maria Dan (Mimi) - Ho-Yoon Chung (Rodolfo)
The challenge of staging an opera, most of which takes place indoors during  the winter, is neatly solved by Potra’s multi-level design which allows the audience to observe the action from both the interior and exterior of the Parisian garret occupied by Rodolfo and his friends. The garret is furnished with op-shop finds including a blow-up chair and dilapidated leather chesterfield. It has a huge overhead window on to which are projected images, most effectively during Puccini’s famous hit-songs, “Your Tiny Hand is Frozen” and “They Call Me Mimi” both which were superbly sung and acted on opening night by Julia Maria Dan (Mimi) and Ho-Yoon Chung (Rodolfo).

Simon Gilkes as Parpignol floating above Sydney Harbour in "La Boheme". 
A snow-storm (Yes really!) heralded the beginning of the second act, which takes place in a bustling market-place in front of the café Momus. Acrobats and stall holders spectacularly ply their trades, while a toy vendor named Parpignol (Simon Gilkes) floats overhead apparently suspended by multi-coloured balloons. 

Musetta (Julie Lea Goodwin costumed in dazzling silver sequins and sporting flaming red hair) arrived in a paddy wagon with her escort Alcindoro, (John Bolton Wood) and after a thrilling rendition of “Musetta’s Waltz”,  decided to create havoc to attract the attention of Marcello (Samuel Dundas).

Julie Lea Goodwin (Musetta) - John Bolton Wood (Alcindoro) 
"La Boheme"
Act three begins with Mimi wandering through the snow in riot torn streets where she discovers Marcello and confides in him that Rodolfo, overcome with jealousy, has deserted her. Later, standing in the snow below a window, she overhears Rodolfo tell Marcello that he is worried that Mimi is seriously ill and may not have much longer to live. As Rodolfo leaves the building, she attracts his attention, and together, sitting in a car wreck, they reaffirm their love for each other.

Julia Maria Dan (Mimi) - Ho- Yoon Chung (Rodolfo) 
"La Boheme"
The final scene in which Musetta discovers the dying Mimi in the snow and takes her to Rodolfo’ s garret, should be the most moving of all, but, on opening night, the too bright lighting design robbed it of atmosphere. Also, both Mimi and Musetta were hampered by unflattering costumes in this scene. The result being that despite excellent singing, especially Richard Anderson’s fine interpretation of the “Old Coat” aria, the cast struggled to achieve the level of pathos necessary in this scene to bring the opera to its memorable conclusion.

Julia Maria Dan - Ho-Yoon Chung (Rodolfo) 
in the final scene of  "La Boheme"

These blemishes aside, this production of “La Boheme” is a remarkable achievement. Tony David Cray’s miraculous sound design which achieves superb balance between the brilliant   vocals and the thrilling richness of the Brian Castles-Onions orchestral sound, together with Andy Morton’s inventive direction, Dan Potra’s imaginative sets and costumes, and the breath-taking Sydney skyline, provides an unequalled spectacle which has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  

Act 11 - "La Boheme" 

Act 1 - "La Boheme

                                                          All photos by Prudence Upton
This review also appears in Australian Arts Review -