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08 January, 2008

La Boheme at Sydney Opera House - Aussie Xmas with snow!!

Sydney Opera House

Friday 4th January 2008

RodolfoAldo Di Toro
MarcelloJosé Carbó
CollineJud Arthur
SchaunardWarwick Fyfe
Benoit/AlcindoroJohn Bolton Wood
MimiHey Seoung Kwon
MusettaAmelia Farrugia
c.Giovanni Reggioli

Dear Colleagues,

This was an auspicious and satisfying opening for the three month Sydney summer season of opera which includes Cinderella, Carmen, Arabella and Masked Ball.

As long as one can cope with snow in the Australian summer, Puccini’s masterpiece in a 1960s Sydney block of flats almost ‘works’. Despite a lack of heat and humidity, Australian icons were ubiquitous, and at times embarrassing: ‘chateau cardboard’ boxed wine, a Brent front-button cistern, pink porcelain loo (yes, on stage - and it flushed!), two-up, two-down flats, Cooper louvres, Holden bench seat ‘sofa’, bean-bag, ‘stubby’ beer bottles and an outdoor Asian food outlet. This was all in a Prahran Market environ for the ‘Thai-Momus’ scene. Act III mimicked an Ikea car park and loading dock: refuse, re-cycling and all.

If it takes such a pseudo-Oz production for Brownie Points with the various local funding authorities, so be it. This must be one of the few opera companies in the world with a positive cash flow!

Each of the principal singers made an indelible and positive impression artistically. Mr Di Toro sang beautifully with a fine and well phrased upper register. His acting was well studied and it was a pleasure to hear such effortless singing in this very major role. The director tried to up-stage him with a sub-plot that Schaunard is also in love with Mimi. While this is confusing and unnecessary, there were innumerable smaller direction details which were memorable and meaningful. The dramatic and vocal joys of Act III should make us recall the history of Nellie Melba who sang it as her last ever operatic appearance in Adelaide in her mid-sixties. And her words remain on her gravestone: “Addio, senza rancor” (Goodbye and without regrets).

Our Sydney Mimi was a full-throated Ms Kwon who sang and acted creditably, in spite of the added tasks of scaling stairs and being on stage for the whole of the first act. She appears at the door with her candle after Benoit shorts out the main fuse box in anger at being swindled by our heroes. And Mr Bolton-Wood was at his humorous best as both landlord and rich Alcindoro.

Amelia Farrugia makes an excellent Musetta with all the frills and coquettish spills.

As Marcello, José Carbó sings so well that one regrets that Puccini did not include a baritone solo.

Warwick Fyfe seems incapable of singing quietly. Jud Arthur sang well as Colline, his cloak aria being sung from the on-stage loo!

Maestro Reggioli and orchestra complimented the marvellous things which were happening on stage with Puccini’s luscious score. The chorus was also at its best for the new season opening.

The audience was apparently a regular Friday subscription crew plus some ‘first nighters’ like ourselves and Kamahl. It would not be summer without Geoffery Robertson QC in his coat of many colours. He said he was proposing to write a play with Bush, Howard and Blair in a nursing-home. Governor Marie Bashir was there enjoying the offerings and making plans for a return visit. The performance was dedicated to the memory of Maestro Carlo Fellice Cillario.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..