Opera Scotland

Bohème 2017Teatro Regio, Turin

Read more about the opera Bohème

2017 being the 70th year of the Edinburgh Festival, the opera programme was a celebratory one with a distinctly expanded line-up of nine works. For the first time for ages, we had a residency by a major visiting company, the Teatro Regio, Torino, with Macbeth, the opera that opened that first Festival back in 1947, and La bohème. never before seen at the Festival, and a work that was launched at the old Teatro Regio back in 1896. Scottish Opera provided a new staging of Greek, Turnage's ground-breaking piece that was a Festival co-commission in 1988. There was also a strongly cast staging of Don Giovanni.

The operas to be performed in concert included Die Walküre, the second instalment of the Festival's four-year survey of the Ring, as well as Peter Grimes. The 450th anniversary of Monteverdi's birth was celebrated with a trilogy of concerts in which John Eliot Gardiner conducted L'Orfeo, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria and L'incoronazione di Poppea, seen together in Edinburgh for the first time since 1978.

There were three further events, not part of the opera programme, but which should be highlighted. No Festival visit is complete without enjoying a morning concert at the Queen's Hall. Here there was a prelude to the Monteverdi event in the form of Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in a recently discovered transcription by Heinrich Schütz. The gloriously dramatic Damnation of Faust by Berlioz was performed by Mark Elder and the Hallé, while the Festival continued its exploration of rare Elgar with a revival of the cantata King Olaf.

La bohème may seem a surprising choice for the Festival to stage in its seventieth season. After all, if it has survived the previous sixty-nine years without looking at Puccini's masterpiece then why start now? And why Bohème, when Tosca and Madama Butterfly have been equally neglected? The reason is clearly attached more to the identity of the visiting company. This great opera received its first performance on 1 February 1896 in Turin, at the old Teatro Regio under its brilliant young conductor Arturo Toscanini, so it is hardly surprising if the company have a special attachment to it. While that theatre, dating from 1753, was destroyed by fire in 1936, a new and spectacularly modern Teatro Regio opened in 1973. It is, once again, one of the leading houses in Italy, as Edinburgh audiences saw with the concert performance of William Tell in 2014.

This production was under the direction of Àlex Ollé, one of the leading members of the famous Catalan company La Fura dels Baus, working with his regular design team. In Britain they were already known for recent stagings at ENO (Le Grand Macabre) and Covent Garden (Oedipe, Norma) and their reputation indicates their work can be both spectacular and controversial. However they also know when to leave well alone, and this staging, done on a grand scale, was consistently thought through, and packed with enjoyable detail. The period chosen was essentially present-day, as most Bohème's nowadays seem to be, and the boys live in a multi-storey block, at first-floor level, with bedrooms above. Even before we see this, there is an attractive drop curtain, in varying shades of dark blue, representing several blocks with twinkling lights at windows. The top storey that is visible is occupied by Mimì, and their building is surrounded by other blocks with lights visible. When Mimì finds herself in sudden darkness it is because the whole district has suffered a power cut, with all the lights going out - Rodolfo has a torch to hand. The café is a fashionably expensive one, with each table telling its own story - at one, two couples clearly celebrate an engagement, promptly broken off when the men's acquaintance with Musetta comes to light. There are several very exotic specimens propping up the bar.

Gianandrea Noseda, familiar to Manchester audiences through his association with the BBC Philharmonic, recently conducted with great success at the New York Met, and has taken his Turin company to new levels of excellence. It seems that he has done research referring to Puccini's manuscript that has allowed him to correct some textual errors. These may not be hugely significant, but it is always beneficial to get back to the composer's ideas excluding copyists' misreadings if possible. His reading was thoroughly enjoyable on every level. His pacing of each act built the tension beautifully - particularly important in the third act snow scene, where the staging was almost traditional (though the women seemed to be drunks leaving after a night's work, rather than peasants arriving to start one). He also increased the prominence of certain woodwind phrases that were attractive. He is not alone in achieving this, however, as some of the most memorable Scottish Opera Bohème conductors over the years have included Sir Alexander Gibson, Sir Charles Groves, John Mauceri and Stuart Stratford.

The performance commented on was the Saturday matinee, which was greeted with delight by a packed and very enthusiastic audience, many of whom seemed to be at an International Festival event for the first time. The singing and acting were generally at a very high level. For this opera, performed at a major festival, that might be expected, but this run seems to have encountered several casting problems on the run in. There were four performances - Friday and Sunday sessions starting at 7.15, and the central Saturday having a matinee at 3.00pm, with the evening show delayed until 8.00pm. This at first meant two singers alternating in some leading roles - Mimì, Musetta, Rodolfo and Marcello, with the other two students each taken by one singer. In the event, the cast originally announced was adjusted, as the A-team Mimì (Irina Lungu), both Marcellos (Massimo Cavalletti and Artur Rucinski) and the Colline (Gabriele Sagona) all dropped out. The rejigging seems to have worked very well and was certainly not detectable at this second performance. The first Musetta, Kelebogile Besong, was able to add the matinee, allowing the scheduled Musetta, Francesca Sassu, to sing Mimì. To sing both these roles on successive days must be unusual!  Peru has produced a trio of superb Rossini tenors in recent decades, in Luigi Alva, Ernesto Palacio and Juan Diego Flórez. A new Peruvian, Iván Ayón Rivas, has studied with all of them. He is still very young, but has a gleaming top to the voice and made an excellent impression as Rodolfo. A single Marcello, Simone del Savio, and a single Colline, Nicola Ulivieri, were also deployed, both to excellent effect, while Benjamin Cho made a positive impression as a lively Schaunard.

Benoit and Alcindoro were well differentiated by Matteo Peirone, last week's Masetto, who even changed back into his Benoit costume for the curtain calls - more appropriate, given the location of the final scene. The small parts were taken by two groups of chorus members in alternation. This all showed that the company from Turin have an excellent team ethos. There was one Scottish element, with an excellent squad of boys from the Edinburgh group of our national youth choir. They sang well and pestered Parpignol to the point where he probably felt glad to get off stage in one piece.

Performance Cast

Rodolfo a poet

Giorgio Berrugi (Aug 25, 26e)

Iván Ayón Rivas (Aug 26m, 27)

Marcello a painter

Simone del Savio

Colline a philosopher

Nicola Ulivieri

Schaunard a musician

Benjamin Cho

Benoit the students' landlord

Matteo Peirone

Mimì a seamstress

Erika Grimaldi (Aug 25, 26e, 27)

Francesca Sassu (Aug 26m)

Parpignol a toy vendor

Sabino Gaita (Aug 25, 26e)

Gualberto Silvestri (Aug 26m, 27)

Musetta a grisette

Kelebogile Besong (Aug 25, 26m & e)

Francesca Sassu (Aug 27)

Alcindoro a wealthy follower of Musetta

Matteo Peirone

Custom-house Sergeant

Mauro Barra (Aug 25, 26e)

Marco Tognozzi (Aug 26m, 27)


Davide Motta Fré (Aug 25, 26e)

Desaret Lika (Aug 26m, 27)

Performance DatesBohème 2017

Map List

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

25 Aug, 19.15 26 Aug, 15.00 26 Aug, 20.00 27 Aug, 19.15

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