On one of the few cold days this London autumn, it seemed only fitting to see the curtain sweep up to display a freezing Christmas Eve in the Latin Quarter of Paris. The 29th of October marked the opening night of the ENO’s 2014 production of Jonathan Miller’s La Boheme. Under the expert direction of Natasha Metherell and with a vibrant cast, rich with ENO family members, the highly anticipated production of Puccini’s classic was already a winner before a word had been sung. Just a few weeks following Richard Jones’s critically acclaimed Girl of the Golden West at the ENO, which I also reviewed, I was curious to see how the Puccini offerings would compare. My conclusion? The ENO know how to do Puccini. Though the two productions bare little resemblance to one another (apart from the composer) the ENO has brought a beauty to both that is a testament to the professional and innovative nature of the company.

Any company will find it challenging to create an up-to-date production of a classic like La Boheme without resorting to gimmicks. Though other productions have tried to set the scene in hyper-contemporary worlds, Miller’s production is set in the 1930s, enabling the ‘old-fashioned’ romance of Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica’s libretto to still be believable. The set, designed by Isabella Bywater, was like a decrepit, interactive doll house, at first showing Rodolfo and friends’ crumbling bohemian apartment, then cleverly twisting and turning to reveal the Cafe Momus on a busy thoroughfare of Paris for the second act.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the entire production was the chemistry between the main singers. The clear friendship between the singers themselves translated so well into their characters, enriching the performance. Not only was the camaraderie there in high spirits, but the romantic chemistry was tangible between both Rodolfo (David Butt Philip) and Mimi (Angel Blue) and Marcello (George von Bergen) and Musetta (Jennifer Holloway). For a production like Boheme these relationships are essential and this production very much delivered. The scene where this was first felt was the famous ‘flirtation’ scene between Mimi and Rodolfo. This scene holds one of the most famous arias and duets in opera so the pressure was on, not that you would know it from the charming acting and interaction between the two singers. David Butt Phillip sang a stupendous ‘Che gelida manina’ with an incredibly long stretch of applause following, and Angel Blue joined her co-star with the same quality of singing in the famous ‘O Soave Fanciulla’ duet which cemented this production into one of high quality.

The intimate flirtation scene is juxtaposed with the start of the second act which turns into a kind of ‘Where’s Wally’ on stage looking for the main characters in the huge crowd of chorus, enacting last minute Christmas shopping panic. This all takes place on the rotated set, showing a busy street on Christmas Eve. It is in this act that the audience are introduced to Jennifer Holloway’s flirtatious and passionate Musetta. Her ‘Quando m’en vo’ aria is sung to perfection, at least the best that I have heard. After a comical interlude with her wealthy ‘patron’, Musetta falls back into the arms of her love, Marcello.

It was my first time hearing the opera in English which took some getting used to, especially with the famous arias. However, the singers embraced the ‘English-only’ protocol of the ENO and performed with as much European passion as if it had been performed in its original Italian narrative.

Though it is difficult to create a totally fresh La Boheme these days, the reason for going to this highly anticipated production is not the heartbreaking story but those who perform it. The cast was generally strong, however, it was the three most prominent performers who shone the most; George von Bergen, who performed Marcello’s role with a sensitivity that I have not seen previously, David Butt Phillips who triumphed with Rodolfo and has a bright future ahead of him, and Angel Blue, who also released her first solo CD the same night, who captured the audience singing Mimi’s famous line ‘mi chiamano Mimi’ (They call me Mimi) and it is my feeling that Angel Blue shall be called Mimi in many Boheme productions to come.

La Boheme continues until 6 December, book here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: Royal Opera House live cinema season 2014/15

Thursday the 16th of October marked the launch of the Royal Opera House live cinema season 2014/15. The production on the big screen that night was The Royal Ballet’s Manon with Marianela Nuñez playing the title role and Federico Bonelli as Des Grieux, Manon’s love. Of course, nothing can better the spectacle of such high quality ballet live on stage, but experiencing it in high definition detail on the big screen offers thrilling insights that are simply not accessible from a normal auditorium view. The audience could hear the pointe shoes delicately hitting the floor with every movement of Kenneth Macmillan’s stunning choreography, they could see the sweat glistening on the dancer’s bodies as they contorted and arranged themselves into beautiful shapes, and they could feel the atmosphere of the stage in the comfort of their cinema seats. Though it is difficult to replicate the exact ambience of sitting in the Royal Opera House auditorium, one of the most exciting features of this project is that the audience members, in over 1,000 cinemas across the UK and the world, are also experiencing live action. There is still the drama of unedited performance and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. For those who are unable to make it to the live performances, the Royal Opera House have now introduced ‘encore’ screenings of the productions, which occur on the Sunday following the initial live showing.

The 2014/15 season will run 11 productions in total; 7 operas and 4 ballets. The program is varied, ranging from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (live showing on the 16th December) to La Boheme (10th June 2015) and everything in between. There is something for everyone and it would be difficult to find a reason not to go! Watching these productions on screen offers unparalleled views and close ups of every feature of the performance, from the individual orchestra members down in the pit to the facial expressions of every dancer on stage. The cinema audiences also benefit from beautifully framed shots which bring an extra aesthetic mediation to the productions; the cameras in the auditorium perfectly framed the stunning, heartbreaking final pas de deux between Manon and Les Grieux and also captured the witty and humorous ‘drunk Lescaut’ (expertly performed by Ricardo Cervera) dancing at the beginning of the second act. Watching a ballet in these surroundings is like watching the most eloquent, luxurious silent film with full musical score.

This season the next production to grace the silver screen is Verdi’s opera, ‘I Due Foscari’ on the 27th of October at 7.15pm. I urge anyone reading this to attend at least one of the live screenings  from the iconic ROH. Last year, the ROH live cinema season showed Giselle which had a huge audience of 57,000 people (which happened to outdo Spiderman’s box office ratings for that day!) This year, Manon was the highest box office result for that night. Clearly, there is a reason why these productions are proving so successful: These screenings are a perfect evening out, seeing world class talent, for a fraction of the price (tickets for the screenings are just over £10) and unparalleled views. Check the ROH website for the next screening near you and spend a night at the opera, with a box of popcorn.

More information on the ROH live cinema season here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: London Firebird Orchestra presents: A Viennese Whirl

The London Firebird Orchestra‘s 2014/15 season started on Tuesday night with the first of four concerts to take place over the next year. The programme boasted an array of the classical music world’s top Viennese waltz hits as well as a handful of charming German songs performed by soloist Silvia Hauer. George Jackson made his conducting debut with the orchestra and, having just come back from studying in Vienna, the theme of the evening was very fitting. It was also Jacqueline Martens first time as leader of the London Firebird Orchestra, making it a trifecta of new faces to the London Firebird stage.

The London Firebird Orchestra, set up in 2012 by Marc Corbett-Weaver, is the answer to where recently graduated music conservatoire students go to play in the terrifying ‘what now’ gap after leaving education and before securing a seat in one of London’s established orchestras . The young group of musicians create an energy that only a young dynamic orchestra can provide. The collective youth of the orchestra was sometimes visible in the occasionally tentative playing, but generally, the group held their own under the excellent direction of Mr Jackson. Though the programme’s unvaried material was not adventurous, the instrumentalists, most especially the wind sections, thrived on the notoriously tricky syncopated rhythm of the Viennese waltzes. I will take this opportunity to commend Alisdair Hill (oboe), Samantha Pearce (flute) and James Meldrum (clarinet) for their excellent playing, both in the ensemble and solo passages. The orchestra in general appeared to grow more confident as the evening went on and by the end of the concert the atmosphere was buzzing with Viennese whirls and flourishes.

It must be said that the real star of the evening was Silvia Hauer, the mezzo-soprano soloist. Her charisma and excellent stage presence punctuated the evening, providing respite from the heavier instrumental waltzes. The programme of songs enabled Ms Hauer to showcase her superb singing and also her wonderful acting ability, going from a passionate Carmen in Bizet’s ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ to a hilarious drunkard in Strauss’ ‘Schwipslied’ from ‘Eine nacht in Venedig’.

The rest of the programme also contained some highlights, from the tradition of the instrumentalists singing in the Bauern Polka by Strauss, to the comical homage to the original performance of Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ movement of his Symphony no. 45 in F-sharp minor, in which members of the orchestra would gradually get up and walk off eventually leaving only two violinists and the conductor on stage. These fun touches and the double encore at the end, complete with audience participation in the form of clapping (expertly conducted by Mr Jackson) were the components to a satisfying and pleasant evening of famous Viennese music at the Actor’s Church of Covent Garden. You can catch the London Firebird Orchestra at their next concert on the 8th of February 2015 at their King’s Place debut where they will be playing a varied repertoire of classical composers.

More information on the London Firebird Orchestra here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.