West Australian Opera brings a tinge of festivity with La Bohème in their final Boorloo production of the 2023 season. By festivity, I mean the northern-hemisphere white Christmas vibes that we still resonate with down here. It’s exactly what I’d expect from the classic art form of opera. There’s something special about seeing these illustrious productions telling familiar stories that have simple themes you can connect to.
The narrative of La Bohème reminds you of the origins of soap operas. The love triangles, the break-ups, the on-again off-again couple, the lover on their deathbed eliciting emotional gestures. You love to see it. Sure, I could just summarise that all in a punchy sentence that resembles a juicy gossip session, but why limit yourself when you can watch it all pour out dramatically in the theatre in front of you? I’ll tell you exactly why you should see the unabridged theatrical version.
Charles Davis once again demonstrates an ability to work the space in a way that makes you wonder if the regular laws of physics apply within His Majesty’s Theatre. His set designs never cease to amaze me by creating a theatre stage that seems like endless woods with just a few items. When you hear the echoes carry to the distance, it adds depth as the sound waves also make the space feel bigger than it is. It’s something that can’t be found in other art forms such as television.
When you see things like this done well, it’s what makes classic theatre captivating. It’s the craftsmanship of the creatives that distinguishes these elements of the audience experience.
The exciting thing about seeing a re-telling of a well-loved tale is that you get to watch how each cast member and creative brings out different aspects of the story. Paul O’Neill plays Rodolfo as a tortured artist, with a knack for bringing out the vulnerability and gentleness in the characters he portrays. As the leading lady, Elena Perroni’s graceful movements on stage brought her costumes to life. Details like these add depth to the performance, and they are so simple that you may barely notice how they enhance your experience.
A single outing to the opera every year with an old friend, or your grandmother, or making it a romantic occasion is such a simple way to make a night memorable and establish our own traditions. Sitting next to people you care about as you watch a performance makes it easy to create lasting memories. Whenever I talk to people about the opera, there is usually a fond mention of the person in their life that introduced them to this medium. For me, it was my high school French teacher. What I retained most from that class is the culture rather than the language. And a love of opera.
La Bohème is presented by the West Australian Opera and is on now at His Majesty’s Theatre through to October 28.