New stars create another success for the world’s favourite opera

January 6, 2019 by Victor Grynberg
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There will always be carping critics complaining about Opera Australia repeating once more the world’s most played 0pera, Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece “La Boheme”…writes Victor Grynberg.

Samuel Dundas as Marcello, Taras Berezhansky as Colline, Shane Lowrencev as Schaunard, Ivan Magrì as Rodolfo and Joyce El-Khoury as Mimì in Opera Australia’s 2019 production of La Bohème at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo credit: Keith Saunders

You won’t read that criticism from me as I adore the music, perhaps the greatest score ever written, with the obvious proviso that any production is sung to a standard worthy of the score.

Along with the enthusiastic opening night crowd I was delighted with the singing we heard. In her debut with Opera Australia, the lead role of Mimi was sung and acted to perfection by Joyce El-Khoury, making her much-awaited OA debut. The Canadian soprano of Lebanese origin has sung this role previously in her home country’s leading opera company, so it was no surprise how effortlessly she reached her highest notes without straining of her voice whatsoever.

And when Mimi is performed to this standard the whole audience becomes entangled in her life, and finally her death.

Just as welcome was another singer making an OA debut. Sicilian-born, Ivan Magri was trained at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatorium. He has sung Rodolfo in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Brazil.  David  Hobson, in the much acclaimed Baz Luhrmann 1990 production showed Australian audiences that a young good looking tenor can combine singing and acting in a realistic style rather than just standing in the front of the stage and singing.  S. Magri was exceptional in my opinion. A joy to watch, and especially to listen to. Tenors are the most criticised of all the voices around the world. You can ask regulars at La Scala, the Met, Covent Garden, Paris etc, as I have, and it’s always their tenors they’re most dissatisfied with. No dissatisfaction here.

Rodolfo needs full support from his Bohemian colleagues especially in the Opening scene and thanks to strong casting he is not let down. I am a great fan of Shane Lowrencev, and repeating his role of Schaunard the musician he was a delight as usual. Just as strong was Samuel Dundas reprising the role of Marcello the painter and Taras Berezhansky as Colline the philosopher.

Though many of the arias and duets from “La Boheme” are much loved the biggest hit isn’t sung by the lead Mimi, but by her counter Musetta. “ Quando M’en Vo” is in every soprano’s repertoire, even when they themselves are more famous for singing Mimi.

It’s an Opera blockbuster. Russian-born, Italian-trained Anna Princeva was rewarded with massive applause for her rendition of this aria. In the Gale Edwards Weimar Republic themed production which debuted in 2011 and was restaged so effectively by Hugh Halliday, she really appealed as a 1920’s flapper.

Supporting the leads was the very well – rehearsed chorus including a wonderful group of children playing the famous market scene. Nice to see and hear young voices on the stage. They shared the stage with at the   “working “ women dressed in risqué underwear displaying their wares for sale at the Café Momus. Together with a patron accompanied by an obvious transvestite this production may not have been possible in earlier more censored times.

OA often employs imported conductors, but when a local conductor is as talented as Benjamin Northey, you could question this. In the enlarged pit, the Opera Australia Orchestra sounds much clearer and brighter than the last time this opera was performed in the Joan Sutherland Theatre.

This was operatic initiation for my date for the evening…my 15-year-old granddaughter. She adored every minute. But for others who might be experiencing La Boheme for the fifteenth time,  this is an opera and a production I can recommend to everyone.

A night of glorious music and first-class staging.

5 Stars

La Boheme

Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House

January 3rd 2019

The season runs till March 28th

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