For visually striking productions full of life and colour, you never need to look much further than director Benedict Andrew’s work, and his latest production of La Bohème for the English National Opera at the London Coliseum certainly doesn’t disappoint.
La Bohème tells the story of struggling artists, literally having to burn their work to keep warm and falling in love on cold winter nights. When poet Rodolpho sets eyes on seamstress Mimi their love is instantaneous, but as we follow it through the production, ultimately ends in tragedy.
What is so accessible about the ENO is their commitment to bringing new people in through the doors and having its operas sung in English so that any language barrier is removed. Instantly, the opera feels closer to home and more relatable, complemented by having the performers in modern dress and a contemporary setting, more on which later.
The first thing that strikes you about the production, and indeed remains true throughout, is that the performers are brilliant. Each singer – from Corinne Winters as Mimi, to Zach Borichevsky as her lover and poet Rodolpho, to his right hand man Duncan Rock as Marchello, the painter – is just superb. Everyone is deeply, palpably committed to their role and even in moments where the opera makes the language slightly harder to understand, it becomes a wonderful experience itself to simply surrender to the music and enjoy the experience as a whole.
Equally, the set is gorgeous and feels true to Andrews’ style: we’re presented with a huge artist’s studio that breaks apart to revolve and form shops, cafes, and later a beautiful rotating fishbowl-like image of rowdy artists. Indeed, Johanne Schütz’s slick design is on point in how it nods to what bohemia really is today in London: it’s the kind where ‘struggling artists’ actually live in expansive converted warehouse loft apartments paid for by their parents – which is to say, not a bohemian lifestyle at all. Indeed, I wouldn’t feel too hard done by living in the spacious, lofty apartment Schütz offers here.
La Bohème offers an enjoyable evening and is also a great production for those who may be new to opera, with its bold aesthetic and fascinating story. It’s incredibly impressive to see what a powerful effect this art form can have on people, with many in the auditorium in tears by the end. And indeed, the applause was lengthy and rapturous, a testament to the skill and quality of the singers, musicians and creative team.
La Bohème is playing at the London Coliseum until 26 November. For more information and tickets, see the ENO website. Photo: ENO.