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Ellen Kent’s La Bohème at Theatre Royal Brighton

The Ukrainian Opera and Ballet Company Kyiv have been touring all parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland since January often performing in theatres and halls that no other company even thinks of visiting, thereby introducing many new audiences to well-sung, traditionally staged popular operas. This week, on a two-night stopover in Brighton, I was lucky enough to see their staging of Puccini’s La Bohème, an excellent choice for those new to the genre.

Production image from La Bohème.
Production image from La Bohème. Credit Ellen Kent/Senbla.

The most impressive aspect of this performance was the orchestra of about thirty players, using a reduced orchestration but sounding rich and full, especially the strings, under the guidance of conductor Vasyl Vasylenko, always considerate of the singers, even if, at times, some of his tempi needed more urgency. The chorus of sixteen, particularly in Act Two at Cafe Momus was also excellent, being able to act as well as sing.

The principal singers also impressed, especially the four Bohemian friends whose lives we follow. Olexandr Forkushak possessed not only a smooth baritone that easily carried to the rear of the theatre, he was also very convincing in his role as penniless painter Marcello. Rodolfo, the poet, who is smitten by Mimi, dying of consumption like many nineteenth-century heroines, was in the very experienced hands of Sorin Lupu, even if he obviously tired by Act Four.

Valeriu Cojocaru’s role of Colline, the philosopher, suddenly comes to life in the fourth act when Puccini gives him the “coat” aria, in which he is prepared to sell his much-loved, thick, well-worn, overcoat in order to pay for a doctor for Mimi. This was superbly sung and, as it should be, the musical highlight of the last few minutes of the opera. The amusing role of Schaunard, the musician was sung and acted effectively by Vitalii Cebotari.

As Marcello’s love interest, the French soprano Olga Perrier proved to have a ringing soprano in the role of Musetta, as well as having three stunning costumes (designer not credited) and Elena Dee as Mimi gradually grew into the role.

Clear surtitles in English – so that no one needs worry about being able to understand the Ukrainian’s Italian pronunciation – but not visible from every seat, were supplied by Solomiya Znak, the effective lighting design was again uncredited and the whole production was directed by Ellen Kent, who has been organising visits of Ukrainian companies for over twenty years.

The current tour, which also includes productions of Aida and Madama Butterfly, is coming to its close on 8 May at Kings Lynn, but also visits Aylesbury, Wimbledon, Southend, Woking, Basingstoke and Malvern before then. Where on earth do they find the energy and enthusiasm?

Highly recommended, especially to those new to opera.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Senbla presents Opera International’s award-winning Ellen Kent Production featuring the Ukrainian Opera & Ballet Theatre Kyiv, with international soloists, a highly-praised chorus, and full orchestra.

Starring Ukrainian soprano Alyona Kistenyova, Korean soprano Elena Dee and French soprano Olga Perrier*

Directed by Ellen Kent, this brand-new production is traditionally staged and features beautiful sets and costumes.

La Bohème is one of the most romantic operas ever written. It tells the tragic tale of the doomed, consumptive Mimi and her love for a penniless writer.

The set reflects the Bohemian art of the period and will include a local brass band and snow effects.

This classic tale of Parisian love and loss features many famous arias including Your Tiny Hand is Frozen, They Call Me Mimi and Muzetta’s Waltz.

Sung in Italian with English surtitles.

*Cast subject to change.

Ellen Kent’s La Bohème is at Theatre Royal Brighton on Tuesday 25th April, 2023.

Ellen Kent’s Madama Butterfly is at Theatre Royal Brighton on Wednesday 26th April, 2023.

View all shows booking now at Theatre Royal Brighton.

Ellen Kent’s La Bohème
New Wimbledon Theatre
Monday 1st May

Ellen Kent’s Madama Butterfly
New Wimbledon Theatre
Tue 2 May 2023

Ellen Kent’s Aida
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
Fri 5 May 2023

Ellen Kent’s Madama Butterfly
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
Sat 6 May 2023

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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