Review: Opera: La Boheme: Scottish Opera Company

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From the Opera

Ma Boheme La Boheme

Opera in Scottland

NEIL COOPER

Four Sterne Stars

In the 1890s, when he penned his tragedy about love and death among starving artists, a universal basic income probably was not on Puccini’s mind. However, how to make a living in today’s creative industries is one of the many timely themes in the brilliant new production of Scottish Opera, the house’s first in six months.

Director Roxana Haines has reinterpreted the story for the socially disconnected era produced by Covid-19 with Jonathan Dove’s arrangement and a scaled-down orchestra. The new version of Haines is set outside in the parking lot of the company and has the story played out among freelancers trying to get a break because they don’t have jobs.

Chances are that by begging, stealing or borrowing, writer Rodolfo, painter Marcello, street musician Schaunard and thinker-in-residence Colline can get by. To Elizabeth Llewellyn’s costume designer Mimi, sadly, things look fatal. It might have worked out differently if only she had hooked up with a sugar daddy like Marcello’s sexy ex-Musetta. As Rodolfo announces in the playful English version of Amanda Holden, “The end of the world has come.”

The event takes place in front of a socially detached audience sitting at cabaret tables on the backs of trucks that make up two of the three stages. The site-specific architecture of Anna Orton gives what follows the impression of a junkyard happening, where the characters of Puccini will definitely be. The accompanying splashes of graffiti designs by artpistol Projects that adorn the set reinforce such an image.

This adds an extra touch to the performances, led by Samuel Sakker as Rodolfo and a fabulous Llewellyn as Mimì, who, like Rhian Lois as Musetta, makes her Scottish Opera debut. Roland Wood’s Marcello leads the rest of the gang, supported by Arthur Bruce and David Ireland as Schaunard and Colline, while Francis Church’s Alcindoro brings up the rear.

With the performers maintaining their distance, the Jessica Rhodes choreographed appearance expresses the kind of physicality that is currently impossible between consenting adults. The result is a production that exposes the emotional heart of society in crisis.

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