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La bohème: Preview

by on 20 January 2022

Bohème Bounces Back 

La bohème: Preview

Instant Opera at Normansfield Theatre, Teddington from 28th – 30th January 2022

Preview:  Opera critic Thomas Forsythe discusses Instant Opera’s forthcoming production of Puccini’s La bohème with its Artistic Director Nicholas George

TF:     Good evening, Nick.  I hear there is some exciting news: one of the cast of La Bohème has just become a father (for the first time), a fortnight before opening night.

NG:     Good evening, Thomas.  Yes, wonderful news and a tonic to the entire cast in these challenging, tough times.   Between you and me, I already have the new arrival down as a potential member of the Instant Opera Chorus… If he can sing half as good as his father, we’ll be well served!

TF:     That’s marvellous news, and just in time for a double celebration, as Instant Opera’s own “new baby” is due at the end of January, a second generation La bohème, reviving the successful 2019 production.   Can we expect a clear family resemblance between the two productions?

NG:     Completely. It’s a carbon copy of the original production, which sold out weeks before the opening night back in 2019 and was enthusiastically received.  We may add one or two surprises here and there, but what is also exciting is the fabulous cast of new singers that have joined some of the original cast – the audiences are in for a treat!

TF:     Instant Opera’s La bohème is set in 1970’s Amsterdam, not as envisioned by Puccini and his librettists, set in Paris in 1830.  Why the change of location?  Will the atmosphere be different?    

NG:     The production is set specifically in 1973, but this doesn’t ‘intrude’. The book is of French origin, the music and text Italian, but the themes and heart of La bohème are eternal and transcend chronological and metropolitan contexts.  I wanted to reflect this in our current era.  Paris became yet another ‘world city’ during the latter half of the twentieth century.  Amsterdam followed a different – more bold, controversial, path – arguably more convincingly than even the swinging sixties in London or, say, Greenwich village in New York.  This production invites comparisons – yet also reminds us all of our student years, does it not?  I like to think Puccini, Giacosa and Illica would have understood this and approved – they were working backwards in time for their inspiration after all.  

TF:     Normansfield is a most remarkable and beautiful theatre, but its bijoux stage does present problems for the set designer.  The garret is a challenge more to the set builder, but the Christmas Eve scene at Café Momus calls for a large crowd of revellers, the full chorus as well as all the named characters.   Can you give us some insight into how you are rising to these challenges?

NG:     You can say that again. Normansfield is a unique and precious space, but it is also a local, preserved museum.  This presents enormous challenges that call for innovative solutions – particularly by a non-funded opera company.  Without giving any spoilers, I hope the audience will agree that we have achieved this.

TF:     Puccini’s music arguably stirs the emotions more than any other opera composer.   He is best known for his evocative tear-jerkers.  However, what are the highlights of the score for you?

NG:     This is a question that has merited a library of academic texts. La bohème is the opera where Puccini established and consolidated the mastery of his art.  The ‘tear jerking’ tag is justified, but it is also underpinned by supreme technical accomplishments and Puccini remains an enigma, both loved and frowned upon as a result – which makes him all the more fascinating character for study.  What is also not in question is his influence on the Hollywood film industry – then in its infancy.  Apparently, he (wisely) turned down a King’s ransom of a fee to write a score for one early monochrome flick.  He didn’t need the money and he had already invented the genre anyway!

As for one of my highlights – I was listening to first orchestral rehearsal of Rodolfo’s aria Che gelida manina the other day – it gets me every time.

Nicola Said (l) and Callie Gaston (r) play Mimi

TF:     Opera is an all-encompassing art form, and a producer needs to bring in a wide sweep of differing skills.  How do you manage to gather a talented group of singers, actors, musicians and technical people?

NG:     Yes, opera is truly a fusion and celebration of all the arts and all artists.  Instant Opera started as an invitation to friends.  For our original production of La bohème back in 2019 this was augmented, for the first time, with an international audition call.  We were astounded by the quantity and quality of people who turned up.  Opera is still very much a living and vital art form, some 430 or so years down the line!

Anando Mukerjee plays Rodolfo

TF:     With all its snow and cold rooms, this opera is a great one for winter, but what would you say to the non-operagoer?  Puccini is a must-see, but why should they go and see La Bohème?

NG:  Come and ward off those the January blues with a fantastic immersion in glorious music and heart-warming drama… Normansfield Theatre is the perfect place to be introduced to this full-on, wonderful opera!

TF:     I would like I say how much I enjoyed Instant Opera’s Grand Opera Gala at Richmond Theatre last year, which had some outstanding performances.  Will any of the same performers be featured in La bohème?

Camillla Jeppson plays Musetta

NG:     Thank you. The gala was a really magical evening from where we were standing too.  We’re delighted to welcome back, Anando Mukerjee as Rodolfo, Camilla Jeppeson as Musetta, André Andrade as Schaunard and Douglas Somers-Lee as Benoît both from the gala and from the original La bohème cast.   We also welcome some incredible new performers, including Nicola Said and Callie Gaston as Mimi and Conall O’Neill as Colline among others.

TF:     This revival of La bohème has been dogged by the restrictions during the pandemic, with setbacks in 2020 and 2021.  This must have been terribly frustrating for you and all the Instant Opera company.

NG:     This is our fourth attempt to revive La bohème since 2019 at huge cost – ‘nuff said!

TF:     Well, I look forward to being at Normansfield Theatre on 28th January for Instant Opera’s long-awaited La bohème.   Nick, thank you for chatting with me at this busy time.

NG:     Thank you Thomas – let’s hope we can get it over the line this time around and we hope you enjoy it.

Thomas Forsythe, January 2022

Photography by Marc Haegermann, Robert Piwko and Anna Michell

Instant Opera’s La bohème returns to Normansfield Theatre on 28th, 29th & 30th January, for just three performances.  Tickets remain available as we go to press.

Ticket booking link:

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