If I’m honest I don’t often go to the opera, especially performances dedicated to a cat. In fact I rarely go to any performances that are dedicated to animals. So last night’s performance of La Boheme dedicated to the director’s cat was an unusual experience.
Mimi La Boheme, Ellen Kent’s Tonkinese Cat, died on Christmas day aged 19 years and 20 days. I’m not sure what is more remarkable, the fact it died on Christmas day, the fact it lived so long or the fact Ellen knows exactly how old it was to the day.
My knowledge of opera isn’t particularly good but I had an idea what I was in for, as I’ve seen a production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly before. I was a little alarmed to hear that there would be three intervals, but they probably weren’t necessary. I wouldn’t be surprised if the frequent intervals were due to the audience’s needs, since most of the people there were at least 20 years older than my friend and I.
To my relief her knowledge was worse than mine, illustrated best by the question: “You know how this is sang in Ukranian, does the language change depending on where the singers are from?”
This performance was in Italian, sang by the Ukranian National Opera, and it’s always in Italian because it’s written in Italian. That’s how it works. Obviously this conversation took place with a bag of wine gums in the Royal Circle where people around us were discussing arias and libretto…
La Boheme is performed in four acts and centres around a romance between Rodolfo, a poet, and Mimi, a seamstress. They fall in love quicker than teenagers in Oceana on a Saturday night over after Mimi swings by to get a light for her candle (insert inappropriate joke here).
The story is quite simple to follow and if anyone does have difficulties there are surtitles to keep you on track. Of course, being opera, it’s also rather tragic too and although the story wouldn’t exactly win the man Booker prize it’s nice enough.
What does stand out, of course, is the singing. For those unfamiliar with opera or even classical music you’ll find be amazed by the singers. Regardless of their size or vocal range they can all really belt it out. The Korean Elena Dee, who takes on the role of Mimi, has a truly remarkable voice. Her soprano can be both powerful and tender making her Mimi completely believable.
La Boheme does have some humour, the scenes between Marcello, a painter, Colline, a philosopher, Shaunard, a musician (and handsome) and Rodolfo are entertaining. There is also an ongoing sub-story with Musetta, a singer, and her relationship with Marcello.
Overall the performance is quite charming although the plot lacks depth, but as the fourth most performed opera in the world I’m probably not in a position to judge.
The musical score is also lovely and I always find that music performed in theatre shows offers something quite different. Perhaps it’s the way the sound works in the building or maybe it’s just that you can watch them all play, but I find it quite enjoyable.
It’s a shame really that there weren’t more young people at the performance. Although the story is based in Paris at the end of the 1800s the simplicity of it makes it just as accessible now as I’m sure it ever was, and my friend and I weren’t short of talking points long after the performance had finished.
But I definitely enjoyed my evening and would urge you to consider checking out performances like this if you get a chance. It’s great to experience and appreciate things like opera in exactly the style, format and type of venue it was written for originally, which the wonderful Theatre Royal offers.
Oh, and I saw Ellen Kent in the interval and she definitely looked like a cat woman….
Originally published on Guide 2 Brighton.