Settling in at Glenelg Beach, audience members were treated to a beautiful sunset on a balmy night before the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Bruckard, struck up for this charming version of La Bohème, Giacomo Puccini’s popular 1896 work telling of love and loss.
Set in Paris around 1830, the story concerns four young bohemian men – a musician, philosopher, painter and singer – and their ploys to keep food and drink on the table while avoiding paying the rent on their shared lodgings. Critically, there is a seamstress living in another room, plus a better-heeled and glamorous love interest. The primary issue, however, is how affairs of the heart, and attached pride, can lead to a rollercoaster of emotions and uncertainties.
State Opera artistic director Stuart Maunder was in charge of a superb all-Australian cast in this one-night-only outdoor production.
Rosario La Spina (tenor) shone as poet Rodolfo, his voice a great match for the inspiring Cathy-Di Zhang (soprano) as the ailing seamstress Mimi. Of course, these two are fated to fall in love at first sight, albeit in a room described as pitch-black when both their candles expire. Nonetheless, moonlight lets them see enough to clinch the deal.
Samuel Dundas (baritone) was an entertaining Marcello, engaged in a tense romance with alluring singer Musetta, played by Desiree Frahn (soprano). The volatile nature of their painter/singer relationship was a good foil for the poet/seamstress one of Marcello and Mimi. Happiness is sought, of course, but not assured. This is opera, and such an outcome is going to be achieved only after considerable strife and misunderstanding – or not achieved at all.
Jeremy Tatchell (baritone) was the musician Schaunard and Pelham Andrews (bass) the philosopher Colline; their singing blended beautifully, especially with the other “bohemians”. Douglas McNicol (bass) was the landlord Benoît, with whom the group successfully toy to dodge a rent payment.
The solos from La Spina, Zhang, Dundas and Frahn were completely absorbing. Another highlight was the interweaving duets in Act Three, as the two couples sing of their own different concerns. Does it end badly? You bet.
Conductor Bruckard had the ASO perfectly placed for the brief and sprightly phrases that followed snatches of dialogue to add emphasis, and also with the more extended romantic passages.
Humour, suspicion, illness, forgiveness and tragedy – Bohème on the Beach had it all and the orchestra, supported by the State Opera Ensemble, made it a show to remember. Plaudits are also due to sound designer Jim Atkins, who produced crisp yet warm audio for this lush opera.
Although the human figures on stage seemed diminutive to anyone not in the VIP section, you could follow their actions elsewhere. Large screens were strategically placed about the beach, with two flanking the stage itself – a number of people swivelled their chairs to make the best of whichever was closest.
A small sample of audience members at the venue and at a Jetty Road coffee shop afterwards suggested that it was a first-time opera attendance for some and they had received it warmly. The affordable general admission space was clearly popular, too, especially with children under 16 being allowed in free.
That’s all a fillip for State Opera, the ASO and the Holdfast City Council, and may well lead to a broader interest in future State Opera productions. They are to be congratulated.
State Opera presented Bohème on the Beach at Glenelg on Saturday night.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.