Review: La Boheme at Aotea Centre

By William Dart

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NBR New Zealand Opera may have launched its new season cautiously, but Patrick Nolan's lean update of Puccini's La Boheme is a winner.

The Australian director has aimed at blending the gritty, the brutal and the beautiful.

These Bohemians are not in a romantic garrett, but a claustrophobic apartment; despite Truffaut posters on the wall and communal bong, it would take more, one might think, than high-mindedness and a few burned papers to take away its chill.

The Caf Momus of the second act is no chocolate box revelation; rather, an everyday street market is set up before our eyes, table by table, under a soulless high-rise.

Predictably, Puccini's music and characters give the opera its heart, from the moment Rodolfo and his companions jostle and josh their way into our affections.

Wade Kernot's Colline would have his big moment later with a thoughtful Coat Song, but Robert Tucker's Schaunard made the most of being the musician of the group.

Jesus Garcia's Rodolfo and Marcin Bronikowski's Marcello were clearly the stuff of which heroes are made. Garcia would acquit himself thrillingly in his set pieces with Mimi but, on the whole, the Polish baritone had the slight vocal edge in his portrayal of the pragmatic painter.

With conductor Emmanuel Joel-Hornak inspiring the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, an engrossing evening seemed assured.

And it got more so. Antoinette Halloran, making a diva's entrance under a very un-Puccinian spotlight, was a Mimi for our times.

With immaculate vocal grooming - her Mi chiamano Mimi was a model rendition - she also caught the character's emotional stress in the third act, culminating in a powerful quartet that was the musical highlight of the evening.

If Tiffany Speight's Musetta was perhaps too brittle in the Caf Momus scene, she was a highly sympathetic force in the second half of the opera.

And so Puccini was vindicated yet again, as was the ever-growing strength of NBR New Zealand Opera, only too apparent in its newly energised chorus and the way in which local singers can count themselves with the best.

Indeed, Richard Green's scrumptious account of the doddery dupe Alcindoro is quite possibly worth the price of a ticket.

- NZ Herald

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