La Boheme review

Roger Bing in The Croydon Advertiser – June 2001, Ashcroft Theatre

Puccini’s great opera is so popular that it can present a bit of a problem to perform. While it is a crowd-puller, it is also well enough known for an audience to be more critical than with other, less familiar works.

It is, then, to the credit of Surrey Opera that their latest production glided through to an enthusiastic curtain call reception. They even managed to counter the warmth of a June evening outside with their representation of a shiveringly cold Christmas Eve in that attic 19th century Paris.

The glorious music, of course, helps to suspend disbelief, and did so also with the appearance of a very healthy-looking Alexandra Robertson as the suffering Mimi. No matter, because she sang so well. She is one of Australia’s rising young stars, and this production was her first engagement in the United Kingdom. Note the name: with luck more will be heard of her. And from her.

She was matched in particular by a strong performance as Marcello from Tim Baldwin, a baritone of strength and clarity with the added advantage of looking like a painter.

Last Thursday and Saturday the role of Rodolfo was taken by James Edwards, who sometimes was in danger of being drowned by the orchestra, a disadvantage of playing a theatre without a proper pit. But the later scenes with Mimi, as tragedy grips, were movingly portrayed.

Well directed by Francesca Gilpin, this production included a good, busy scene at the Café Momus, where Musetta (Jady Pearl, with sufficient flourish) wreaks her havoc with various males, and made the most of the four artists’ horseplay in the last act to bring a chilling contrast with the news that Mimi is dying.

All the singers were admirably served by a large orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Butcher who also earns extra credit for the set designs.

This can be marked down as another Surrey Opera success.

When Art Brings Us Closer To Real Life

Rex Cooke - East Grinstead Courier 21 June 2001

When everything gels perfectly in an opera performance it can be an unforgettable experience. Such was the audience’s feeling after Surrey Opera’s exciting production of Puccini’s La Bohème at Chequer Mead Theatre.

From the very first bars of the score the orchestra swept us into the heights and lows of student life in the late 19th century Latin Quarter of Paris. The predominantly young cast were all in fine voice and brought freshness to their roles through heartfelt acting and a real team spirit.

The delicate balance between humour and pathos was preserved throughout and the children’s chorus from the Emerald School of Music nicely supported the very capable Surrey Opera chorus.

James Edwards acted and sang Rodolfo the poet with warmth and charm and Alexandra Robertson brought a burnished soprano voice to her touching portrayal of the tragic Mimi with whom he falls in love.

Rodolfo’s young friends provided strong support in the persons of Tim Baldwin as the artist Marcello, Andy McWilliams as Colline the philosopher and Robert Gildon as Schaunard the musician. They all sang and even danced with style.

Francesca Gilpin directed with sensitivity and flair. She achieved excellent acting performances from the principals and chorus alike and created a natural flow of movement, from intimate two character scenes to the use of the full stage which bustled with life as the Café Momus in Act Two. It was here that Jady Pearl sparkled as Marcello’s former lover, Musetta.

The elaborate sets and subtle lighting made a believable environment without distracting from the action and Mimi’s dignified death at the end of the opera stimulated that true shiver of recognition when art brings us closer to real life.

Elena Hill - Horsham Arts Centre – 30 June 2001

With an opera performed as often as this, it is often difficult to find anything new to remark on – not so with Surrey Opera’s new production which has been running through June at various theatres across the South East.

From the moment the curtain opened on the two students Rodolfo (James Edwards) and Marcello (Tim Baldwin) it was clear this was going to be a simple, fresh production.

Sets and costumes were traditional without being overly fussy – the sets in particular giving the right feel of student life in the bohemian quarter of Paris. Effective changes were made to the same basic structure to achieve the garret, the Café Momus and the snow covered gates to the city. An impressive sense of realism was achieved throughout.

This was largely due also the fact that the cast were predominantly very young – as Puccini intended them to be. Despite his upper register sometimes not carrying across the orchestra, James Edwards brought a boyish charm to Rodolfo. He was consistently believable in his scenes with Alexandra Robertson’s superbly sung Mimi. Even in her characterisation of the young seamstress.

The supporting roles were uniformly strong; I particularly liked Tim Baldwin‘s mature warmth as Marcello. Also impressive were the laddish antics of Rob Gildon and Andy McWilliams as Shaunard and Colline respectively. Lawrence Reed gave a scene-stealing cameo as Benoit, and Jady Pearl sang Musetta beautifully, adding a suitable touch of glamour.

The chorus and children were also good; every word was audible, especially from those involved in the difficult scene opening Act 111.

Jonathan Butcher handled Puccini’s beautiful score excellently and Francesca Gilpin achieved a rare sense of credibility throughout.

Angela Goodall in Words and Music – September/October 2001

Triumph snatched from the jaws of disaster! Not many worse fates can befall an opera company than their MD falling ill on the day of the performance; however, the usually energetic Jonathan Butcher succumbed to a virus (perhaps the result of being too energetic and ubiquitous) the day we attended. Surrey Opera were fortunate to secure the services of Murray Hipkin from ENO at a few hours’ notice.

After an understandably shaky start the whole company settled to give a performance that was strikingly natural and believable, making the central relationships clearer to me than ever before.

The singing from the principals was expressive with some superb sounds, especially in the love duets and ensembles. We heard Alexandra Robertson, James Edwards, Jady Pearl, Tim Baldwin, Robert Gildon and Andy McWilliams with Paul Bray as the put-upon Alcindoro and Lawrence Reed as the seedy landlord Benoit (shades of Mr Rigsby from ‘Rising Damp’)

The adult chorus was small but with strong individual voices and the children were tuneful and confident. The orchestra ensured that the score had its due emotional effect as Puccini intended.