Puccini’s ever popular La Boheme is startlingly reimagined in Arcadian Opera’s first ever production for the Roxborough Theatre at Stowe. The struggling bohemians of fin de siècle Paris are transported to the fringes of the Bloomsbury group in 1930s London. Sung in English, with orchestral accompaniment, the vibrant score relating the tale of the passionate and yet complex love of Rodolfo and his Mimi is excitingly brought to new life by the principal cast of young professional singers with a talented local chorus.
finds Rodolfo and Marcello shivering in their artists’ garret. They take desperate measures to heat the place, to the astonishment of Colline who is already perplexed by the closure of pawnshops on Christmas Eve. Schaunard, the musician, has scored a well-paid gig and brings supplies and money – only for the landlord, Benoit, to call for his arrears. Benoit is no match for these creative spirits, and soon London on Christmas Eve is calling, and an excursion is prescribed. Rodolfo the poet stays behind for a few minutes; and as if she’d been waiting for the opportunity the girl upstairs knocks on the door. Does he blow out her candle? Does she?
In our version at least, the opening is Cockaigne at its noisiest and generally beafiest. Families, street traders and cheeky children have braved the cold and gathered around the Cafe Momus. The rich parade their liquidity, the poor soak it up. Our Bloomsbury Bohemians welcome Mimi into their hermetic club, and all goes swimmingly until Marcello’s former love appears with her wretched sugar-daddy in tow. The men all want her and the women, secretly, want to be her. Will she dump Alcindoro, her sugar-daddy, and go back to the poor painter? Is this an opera? Who cares? – As the magnificent Household Cavalry ride past for the Changing of the Guard.
There is an interval….
Reality, as the working classes struggle to reverse entropy and chaos. At least their lives have a clarity denied to our better-educated protagonists. A year has passed. Mimi seeks Marcello’s help in allaying Rodolfo’s increasing jealousy. She is clearly ill. She overhears Rodolfo confiding in Marcello his despair at not being able to provide for Mimi in her sickness, and suddenly she knows her fate. She is reunited with Rodolfo for a while at least, and their bittersweet ecstasy is counterpointed by the shallow squabbling of Marcello and Musetta.
Act IV finds Rodolfo and Marcello once again reluctant bachelors. Unsurprisingly Mimi has abandoned Rodolfo’s bedsit for a more comfortable berth, and who knows where Musetta has ended up? The men’s sad reveries are broken by the arrival of Schaunard with bread rolls and Colline with a herring! Riches! Ecstasy mounts as the unworldly Bohemians pile fantasy on extravagant fantasy, until …
… Musetta arrives; with Mimi, whom she has found in the street outside. Mimi is confronting the reality no art can conquer. Musetta’s searing honesty is revealed and even Colline is moved to generosity. As Mimi slips heartbreakingly away, Puccini, a master at the height of his extraordinary power, takes command of our inner selves and releases emotions only opera can expose.
The Cast in Order of Appearance
Marcello, an unappreciated artist – Wesley Biggs
Rodolfo, an aspiring poet – Gabriel Courvoisier
Colline, an unpublished philosopher – Tobias Odenwald
Schaunard, a striving musician – Jacob Bettinelli
Benoit, a slum landlord – Patrick Marshall
Mimi, a skilled embroiderer – Natasha Day
Musetta, a good-time girl – Sara Whichelow
Alcindoro, a gentleman of means – Christopher Marlow
Parpigniol, an itinerant toy seller – Louis Orozco
PC Brunetti, a policeman on the beat – Nick Adams
Mr Algernon Prior – Philip Abbott
PC Brunetti off duty – Nick Adams
Mrs Connie Warren – Gillian Bartram
Mrs Mabel Boddie – Karen Cockerill
Miss Petunia Bloom – Evana Cook
Mrs Virginia Creeper – Sarah Cox
Mrs Maud Rivell – Sue Dix
Mrs Ivy League – Lesley Gray
Mr Malory Monument – Nick Heritage
Mr Harry Greengrow – George Higgins
Miss Ariadne Troy – Lynn Homer
Mrs Lucia Mapp – Ilana Jacobs
Mr Bertie Rooster – Richard Keeping
Mrs Frances Herring – Sue Mackrell
Mr Albert Herring – Roger Mackrell
Mr Archie Benoit – Paddy Marshall
Mr Theodore de Gasgoine – Graham Mitchell
Mr Alf Parpignol – Mr Luis Orozco
The Hon Daisy Hawser – Sally Ross
Miss Inger Stepp – Rie Saito
Mr Joseph Spokeshave – Doug Scott
Mrs Iris Spokeshave – Jill Scott
Mr Rupert Golightly – Graham Scrase
The Children’s Chorus
The Arcadian Actors
Cathy Ann Field