Puccini’s La Bohème makes a ‘triumphant’ comeback at ENO with a classic revival

Jonathon Miller’s revival of La Bohème returned to the English National Opera stage on November 26, after a three-year break. Soprano Natalya Romaniw made her debut in the role of Mimi alongside tenor and fellow newcomer Jonathon Tetelman who plays Rodolfo.

A classic opera, Puccini’s La Bohème has seen thousands of revivals since it was first performed in 1896. This fourth revival of Miller’s 2009 production was deemed a “real achievement” by the Guardian, after ENO’s previous production of Benedict Andrews’ Bohème. Andrews’ contemporary storytelling with the two leads as heroin-addicted lovers received unfavorable reviews back in 2015.

Graphic: Sarah Dixon Photo: ENO (c) Robert Workman

According to ENO, this revival goes back to tradition. Set in 1930s Paris, the atmosphere is designed to capture the beautiful aesthetic made famous by photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. The Stage said the show brought back some romance and comedy to the performance, while lighting designer Jean Kalman captured the cold, winter streets of Paris.

According to Romaniw, who sang the her role once before during her time at the Houston Grand Opera Studio, playing Mimi is a real treat given the time of year, as Bohème is “quite a Christmassey opera.” The Guardian said Romaniw’s is the “standout performance” in the show.

Romaniw said: “As it was my debut, it was really nice to walk into a role that I’d already built the foundation for previously. It is an iconic character and of course everyone expects certain things from that character. I’m lucky because I’ve had quite a lot of experience singing bits and bobs from the opera throughout my career.”

The decision to go with Miller’s production was a smart one, Romaniw said.

Romaniw said: “The previous production was rather modern, and I think Jonathon Miller’s is such a classic. It’s so accessible and beautiful and doesn’t try to be anything other than true to the opera and the story. I think it was a very good move to put it back on. I think it was a good position and therefore a triumph, because we have a really strong cast.”

It’s important to audiences to keep classic shows such as La Bohème as a staple in ENO’s repertoire, according to Romaniw. Its recent production of Salome was “in every sense nontraditional” and divided opinions in the press.

La bohème cast featuring Nadine Benjamin as Mussette. Photo: ENO (c) Robert Workman

Romaniw said: “I think you have to strike a good balance with introducing more contemporary pieces… It’s a good idea to have a mix of something traditional where you don’t really have to think and everyone can find it easy to relate to and also to push boundaries. Because everything at ENO is sung in English, I think they can afford to be a little more experimental.”

Nadine Benjamin, a seasoned performed and Harewood Artist with the ENO, is playing Mussetta. Benjamin starred in ENO’s Porgy and Bess earlier this season, the Independent calling the performance “splendid.”

ENO’s La Bohème runs until 22 February 2019 at London Coliseum.

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