Opera North present Puccini's perennial tearjerker


Tuesday, 22nd October 2019, 12:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 3:46 pm
Thomas Atkins as Rodolfo and Katie Bird as Mimì in Opera North's La Boheme

The nights are drawing in, so it must be time for Puccini's perennial tear-jerker about the young seamstress, Mimi, who dies of consumption in her Parisian garret as winter sets in.

Phyllida Lloyd's production has itself seen off a few winters (this is its sixth revival) but it remains colourful, affecting and surprisingly modern - set in the mid-20th century, with a motor-bike and a set of Andy Warhol-type prints among the props.

It is a bitter-sweet examination of the emotional turmoil of youth, with the male characters mainly students struggling to come to terms with their bohemian lives and with the women who drift in and out of them.

So it is good to see that Opera North has given youth its head in this enjoyable revival. They have brought in alternating casts of mainly newcomers to the company, and promoted others from their own chorus into individual roles.

It sounds like an extended audition but it works very well in what is essentially an ensemble piece, with the first-night cast coming together amusingly as a bunch of penniless, gauche students determined to wring the most out of life.

They could sing, too. Katie Bird was touching as the doomed but determined Mimi, even if she occasionally lost her battle to be heard above the band, while Thomas Atkins was clear and vibrant as her lover, Rodolpho.

Between them they made Mimi's climactic death-bed scene touching without becoming cloying or sentimental.

Samantha Clarke as the worldly singer Musetta and Timothy Nelson as her long-suffering swain Marcello provide effective foils.

Anthony Ward's sets switch effectively from bohemian squalor to the splendour of Parisian café life, into which choreographer Lauren Poulter injects a lively and colourful interlude performed by local children.

This production will probably not be revived many more times, so if you haven't yet seen it, catch it while you can.

Philip Andrews