Opera Review: Bohemian on the Beach
Settling into Glenelg Beach, spectators were treated to a glorious sunset on a balmy night before the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Bruckard, kicked off this delightful version of BohemianGiacomo Puccini’s popular 1896 work telling of love and loss.
Set in Paris around 1830, the story concerns four young bohemian men – musician, philosopher, painter and singer – and their schemes to keep food and drink on the table while avoiding paying rent for their shared accommodation. Critically, there’s a seamstress living in another room, as well as a more affluent and glamorous love interest. The main question, however, is how affairs of the heart and the pride attached to them can lead to a roller coaster of emotions and uncertainties.
State Opera Artistic Director Stuart Maunder was in charge of a superb all-Australian cast in this one-night outdoor production.
Rosario La Spina (tenor) shone as the poet Rodolfo, her voice perfectly matches the inspiring Cathy-Di Zhang (soprano) as the sick seamstress Mimi. Of course, these two are destined to fall in love at first sight, albeit in a room described as pitch black when both of their candles expire. Nevertheless, the moonlight allows them to see enough to close the deal.
Samuel Dundas (baritone) was an entertaining Marcello, engaged in a tense romance with the seductive singer Musetta, played by Desiree Frahn (soprano). The volatile nature of their painter/singer relationship was a good foil for the poet/seamstress of Marcello and Mimi. Happiness is sought, certainly, but not assured. This is opera, and such a result will only be achieved after considerable conflict and misunderstanding – or not at all.
Jeremy Tatchell (baritone) was the musician Schaunard and Pelham Andrews (bass) the philosopher Hill; their singing blended wonderfully, especially with the other “bohemians”. Douglas McNicol (bass) was landlord Benedict, whom the band successfully played with to dodge paying rent.
The solos of La Spina, Zhang, Dundas and Frahn were completely absorbing. Another highlight was the intertwining duets in act three, as the two couples sing about their own concerns. Does it end badly? You bet.
Conductor Bruckard had placed the ASO perfectly for the short, snappy phrases that followed snippets of dialogue to add emphasis, as well as the more expansive romantic passages.
Humor, distrust, illness, forgiveness and tragedy – Bohemian on the beach had it all and the orchestra, backed by the State Opera Ensemble, made it a performance to remember. The applause is also due to sound designer Jim Atkins, who produced a clear yet warm sound for this lush opera.
Although the human figures on stage looked tiny to anyone not in the VIP section, you could follow their actions elsewhere. Large screens were strategically placed around the beach, with two flanking the stage itself – a number of people rotated their chairs to make the most of whichever was closer.
A small cross-section of spectators at the venue and in a cafe in Jetty Road then suggested that it was their first time at the opera for some and that they had received it warmly. The affordable general admission space was also clearly popular, especially with children under 16 admitted free.
This is quite a boost for State Opera, ASO and Holdfast City Council, and may well lead to wider interest in future State Opera productions. They are to be congratulated.
State Opera Presented Bohemian on Glenelg beach on Saturday night.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.