Review: Hampstead Garden Opera perform La Boheme

HGO presents a new production of Puccini's La Boheme by Daisy Evans, fully staged with HGO's Orchest

HGO presents a new production of Puccini's La Boheme by Daisy Evans, fully staged with HGO's Orchestra and the New London Children's Choir. - Credit: Archant

Too much concept and too little clarity hamper an otherwise enjoyable production of Puccini’s classic opera

It's not unusual to play about with the setting of operas. Twenty-five years ago "cutting edge" productions seemed to be all set in the speakeasies of prohibition America.

Here, director Daisy Evans has shifted the action from arty 1830s Paris to, well, I'm not sure where. The time frame seems to be 70s/80s, but who knows, as there are no props (but plenty of mime) to give you clues.

This probably doesn't matter; after all, this is one of opera's great love stories, but a couple of scenes are simply baffling and distracting - like the one where children (from the excellent New London Children's Choir) are being taught the latest dance moves while four lads look on while sharing a joint.

The conceit here is that the story unravels in flashback from the perspective of Rodolfo as he attends a grief counselling session and recounts his passion for the consumptive Mimi.

My difficulty was that (despite programme notes) it took a while to twig on.

Unusually the musicians are seated on the stage, close enough to become part of the action. The remaining space is dominated by a large ziggurat that stands in for garret, disco, front room and elswhere.

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Rodolfo (beautifully sung by the extraordinarily talented tenor Monwabisi Lindi) and his arty flatmates are freezing to a hungry death, but as resourceful chaps use guile to get them through the cruel winter and the rent demands of their Rigsbyesque landlord.

Into Rodolfo's life comes neighbour Mimi (the magnificent soprano of Fiona McArdle), who added to my confusion by being dressed as a 60s West Coast Hippie. They fall in love, argue, split up, reconcile, and then she dies; all this against the on/off background affair of the vampish Musetta and Marcello.

Their duets are passionate and beautiful and the staging of the final death scene is magnificent - mention must be made of Jake Wiltshire's lighting design.

Music and the voices of main characters was excellent but Evans encumbers her efforts with too much concept and too little clarity.