Tuesday, May 28

La Bohème – Storyhouse, Chester

Stories of love and endurance always capture the spirit and Puccini’s La Bohème is arguably one of the most famous operatic pieces on this theme. Opening on Christmas Eve in a 19th century Parisian garret, we witness the ebb and flow of two couples – Rudolfo (Thomas Elwin) Marcello (Michel de Souza) Musetta (Jenny Stafford) and Mimi (Francesca Chiejina) – with fates entwined in a storyline that stands as well today as when it was first written.

Picture two lovers meeting on a snowy night against the backdrop of the famed ‘city of romance’. Where should we assume their meeting will take them in life? In this classic tale of love, friendship and mortality, the audience are faced with a stark social picture of what it’s like to live on the breadline. Be prepared to meet the highs with the lows, the ecstatic with the tragic.

There is a timely poignancy to witnessing Rodolfo burning his latest work in a bid to keep himself and Marcello warm.

Sung in Italian with subtitles to the side of the stage, English Touring Opera’s production speaks to the core of what it is to be human – what it is to love and to survive. Keeping track of the subtitles and centre stage simultaneously is a little challenging at times but not so much that you can’t enjoy the show.

This revival version directed by Christopher Moon-Little feels a more realist production of what can be an overly-dramatised show. The set and costume design hardly change throughout. Worn clothes and a muted palette transport the audience from the comfort of the theatre to a pitiful Parisian backstreet, for a fly-on-the-wall view of the fated couples’ lives.

The scenes change and create perceptions of different dimensions through clever manoeuvring of staging and positioning of the actors. Due to this, when the majority of the company appear on stage for a street scene, you really get the atmosphere of a bustling street and bar.

It is here that we also see the benefits of English Touring Opera’s outreach work, whereby children from local schools form part of the chorus. For Chester, it is youngsters from St Martin’s Academy and Grosvenor Park Academy. Their enthusiasm for being on stage alongside the main company was evident and the performance from them faultless.

Elwin and Chiejina – in her debut role – are perfectly cast to draw the audience in to the emotional rollercoaster. Their voices par together harmoniously and ring with a well-rounded depth. The chemistry of camaraderie between Schaunard (Themba Mvula), Colline (Trevor Eliot Bowes) and the two leading couples is also brought to life exceptionally well. It’s easy to forget you are watching an Act.

Every aspect of this production captures the poetry and the poverty of 19th century Paris.

English Touring Opera have captured the essence of Puccini’s intent for La Bohème. Both breaking hearts and breathing joy into those who encounter it, the opera marks with hope and despair, joy and sorrow and love and tragedy.

Touring until Friday 3rd June, tickets can be booked through https://englishtouringopera.org.uk/ Stay up to date by following @ETOpera on Twitter.

Reviewer: Ezzy LaBelle

Reviewed: 28 April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★