Opera Scotland

Bohème 2017OperaUpClose

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Opera al fresco

The Byre in the Botanics summer season takes full advantage of this attractive enclave, surprisingly close to the town centre. The delights of informal open air opera performance can be hugely engaging even if ambient noise may annoy the purist.  On this occasion the weather remained pleasant, with an occasional breeze audible, but no significant rain to drum on the transparent marquee roof.

The stage was sheltered under an inflatable arch. The hum from the generator behind was initially a distraction, but the audience soon became accustomed to it. Voice projection, however, was not ideal in the first and last acts, when the garret scenes were slightly muffled. For the third act the singers were all at the front of the stage, and voices projected more clearly.

OperaUpClose in St Andrews

This excellent little company paid its first visit to St Andrews last summer with a thoroughly enjoyable Carmen and a second evening that consisted of a compilation of scenes and arias derived from Shakespearean themes. For this 2017 return they brought two performances of a revival of their staging of La bohème which put the company on the map back in 2011. At that time the production won both an Olivier Award and a Whatsonstage.com Award.

While most updates of this opera tend to create more problems than they solve, director Robin Norton-Hale's own English version, printed in the useful programme, was enjoyably witty. It helped that all the singers projected their words with clarity. The accompaniment was restricted to piano, but that worked well (with Elspeth Wilkes also occasionally conducting the tricky ensembles). In addition to the piano at the left side of the stage, there was a second instrument at the back of the marquee, next to the bar. This came into its own in the second act.

The greatest impact was made in the second act café scene. The absence of a chorus became a virtue when the cast decamped to the marquee floor at the back of the auditorium (hence the second piano) and commandeered a table. The characters were now in amongst the audience - Musetta's song projected from a position standing on a second table. Voices certainly came across clearly at this stage (perhaps because your reviewers were now - as luck would have it - a mere three feet to the left of the tenor). The detailed acting and improvisation seemed very fresh in spite of the number of performances these singers must have done in varied circumstances.

Most of the roles had multiple alternate casts during the tour. The singers at the first performance were uniformly of a high standard. Anthony Flaum, last year's Don José, made an attractive character of Rodolfo, well matched by the lyrical Mimì of Louise Tee. The Marcello and Musetta were equally well suited. Schaunard and Colline also projected plenty of character.

The most experienced member of the company, Martin Nelson, was completely successful in differentiating Benoit and Alcindoro. One of the young extras - billed in the programme as 'chorus' played a number of roles - not just the chorus at the start of the second act, but also the toy-seller Parpignol and a waiter who made himself useful helping Musetta on and off her tables.

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In all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable event, and in its engagement with audience members offers a complete contrast to the other full-scale stagings of a work which is receiving a huge amount of exposure in Scotland during 2017.

The detailed cast for Thursday was provided to us by the company, as the expected leaflets had not arrived - an issue which will have been resolved for the second performance.

Performance Cast

Rodolfo a poet

Anthony Flaum

Marcello a painter

Nicolas Dwyer

Colline a philosopher

Julian Dubreuil

Schaunard a musician

Alistair Sutherland

Benoit the students' landlord

Martin Nelson

Mimì a seamstress

Louise Tee

Parpignol a toy vendor

James Schouten

Musetta a grisette

Louise Lloyd

Alcindoro a wealthy follower of Musetta

Martin Nelson

Performance DatesBohème 2017

Map List

Byre Theatre | St Andrews

13 Jul, 19.00 14 Jul, 19.00

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