One of the most popular operas in the world, already a smash hit in Opera North’s repertoire, and fans offered an ‘update’ during the week’s residency at The Lowry.
Were we into the why-update-a-classic debate here – a proposal usually guaranteed to send a little shiver of apprehension through opera lovers who have grown up with this one in particular through the decades?
We need not have feared. It turns out Opera North’s idea of update is to reinvigorate, invest with more energy, add more vigour and colour.
And, as is always the core of La Boheme, to evince even more heart-rending emotion from the fate of the young lovers.
If Mimi and Rodolfo do not work, to use a horribly prosaic word, there is a big hole in the middle of it.
Lauren Fagan and Eleazar Rodriguez, from the moment of their beautiful metaphor meeting struggling to light their candles in the garret cold, create a slowing building warmth which is given glorious voice with their love duet.
In the Café Momus, a revolving line of seats and chairs sweeps us dramatically from bar to street and back again as the festivities take their toll on the new and fractured relationships of the Parisian emotional carousel.
What works especially well is the contrast of the skittish Musetta and her grand, flirtatious and discarded love affairs and ON’s well-drilled children’s chorus dominating the closely-choreographed proceedings, and the simple tragedy to come.
There is a price to pay for the exuberance and fun, as the course of true love twists and turns, and the closing inevitability back in the freezing attic bringing the central lovers together again is of an order of despair marking the futility of yesterday’s frivolity.
Yuriy Yurchuk as Marcello is a fine, swaggering Lothario, Emyr Wyn Jones the occasionally thoughtful philosopher Colline, and Henry Neill the over-the-top musician Schaunard.
The evening’s most chilling single moment fell Stuart Laing, as the toy seller Parpignol.
As the merriment is in full flow he suddenly appears in the wing, all in black, like a Grim Reaper about to make his appearance.