WAOpera’s self-proclaimed Year of the Divo is coming to an end. The year started with baritone hunk Teddy Tahu-Rhodes as the Alpha-male Don Giovanni, followed by Rosario La Spina’s resplendent Alfredo in La Traviata. But the best ‘male moment’ was provided by not one but four ‘divo’s’ in the current production of La Boheme.

The four ‘divo’s’

Puccini’s famous operatic depiction of 1830’s bohemian Paris is constructed around the love between Rodolfo and Mimi but much of the energy comes from the youthful antics of Rodolfo’s artisan friends. The easy-flowing banter between Rodolfo and Marcello (a painter), Colline (philosopher) and Schaunard (musician) feels even more natural in this highly entertaining production thanks to director Simon Phillips’ 1990’s updated setting.

Stephen Curtis’ set design celebrates the recontextualisation without sacrificing the intent of the original opera. Rodolfo’s grotty bachelor pad is scattered with dirty dishes and milk crate furniture; a rap dancer and ghetto blaster replace the traditional fife and drum band in a riotous market scene (with the WA Opera Chorus bustling with activity) and the toll gate from Act Three is a warehouse alley.

The Opera Conference production was last in Perth in 2007 and has plenty of depth to warrant this revival (smoothly orchestrated by rehearsal director Cath Dadd). For example the recurring rose motif, first seen painted on the flat window. In Act Three as Mimi and Rodolfo’s relationship is threatened decaying roses spill from a rubbish bin and in Act Four the louvre windows are open and the rose image is fragmented as Mimi dies.

 The thought-provoking directorial concept was matched by an outstanding cast. American tenor Garrett Sorenson’s emotion-laden, untamed voice gave a boy-next-door appeal to Rodolfo.  Australian-Armenian Natalie Aroyan brought a fragile naivety to Mimi, with moments of voluminous soprano splendour. Her conversational ‘Mi chiamano Mimi’ was full of shy smiles and expressively stretched phrases. As the lovers sang their duet ‘O soave fancuilla’ the apartment floor lifted and the entire set was winched above the stage; their youthful infatuation lifts them momentarily from the squalor of poverty.


Jose Carbo’s brooding Marcello was the perfect match for Rachelle Durkin’s charismatic Musetta and their squalling relationship – including a fistfight resolved by love-making – was highly entertaining. Adrian Tamburini was a noble Colline and Andrew Foote was in top form as the Benoit the tipsy landlord. James Clayton was loveable as the loutish Schaunard, dancing erotically with a bean bag, peeing into the grimy toilet and procuring a surprise feast for his mates on Christmas Eve.

The robust playing from the WA SymphonyOrchestra under Joseph Colaneri overwhelmed the lovers during key moments in Act One but the orchestral colours were vibrant, with sassy winds and velvety strings lending moodiness to this engaging production.

La Boheme continues Nov 2, 5, 7, 9. Tickets here

This review copyright The West Australian 2013