The beauty of Flat Pack Music’s production of La Bohème, performed on Saturday 29th October at the Casa Theatre, aside from the spell-binding singing, mesmerising piano and captivating drama, is how both opera virgins, such as myself, and libretto aficionados alike are catered for by this accessible English-language rendition of one of the most popular Italian operas of all time.

Puccini’s classic, La Bohème, is a tragic story of poverty, friendship and love in 1830s Paris, centred on the relationship between poet Rodolfo and his lover, seamstress Mimi. The story begins with the burning of Rodolfo’s manuscript as fuel for the fire while he and his friend, painter Marcello, struggle to stave off the cold in their apartment. Later that night, after more friends arrive bringing food, fuel and wine, the landlord Alcindoro, played by Samuel Jackson, knocks at the door demanding rent and they ply him with wine instead.

After drunkenly revealing his various extra-marital affairs, the friends chuck the landlord out and use the rent money on a night out in the Parisian cafes. Rodolfo stays behind to finish some writing, when he meets Mimi, who lives in the same apartment block and comes looking for a match to light her candle, and they fall in love.

This poignant and tragic tale unfolds as Mimi becomes ever weakened by consumption, and is expertly performed by a cast of ten, including Joseph Buckmaster as Rodolfo and Heather Heighway as Mimi. Jessica Hope plays Mimi’s flirty friend Musetta with Philip Clieve as Marcello, Musetta’s on-off lover. The relationships of these two couples is contrasted quite pointedly throughout the performance, and it was interesting to see this comparison of the capricious self-determination of Musetta, at times somewhat sly and a little obnoxious, with the fragile and more compliant character of Mimi. Both women however are relying on the men in their lives to get by, and when Mimi’s turberculosis begins to consume her, Rodolfo casts her off under pretence of jealousy as he fears he cannot support her as she sickens, suggesting instead she finds a rich man who can look after her.

They decide to spend the winter together and for Mimi to go off and find her rich man in the spring. Some time later, Rodolfo and Marcello are in the midst of a drunken party at the apartment when Musetta runs in, dressed in finery, and tells of Mimi’s collapse in the street. They rush to bring her inside to a bed and the group, including their friends Shaunard, played by David Cane and Peter Lidbetter as Colline, head off to pawn any valuables they can find to get medicine for Mimi, who seems to be coming round a little, but tragedy very soon awaits. Rodolfo’s call out as he realises that Mimi has gone cold resonates through the Casa space, bringing a heart-wrenching finale to a fantastic production that led the appreciative audience to a standing ovation.

Directed by Tom Newell and Emily Howard, and with an astounding piano accompaniment by Tom Pieczora, Flat Pack Music’s production of La Bohème delighted and captivated the audience at the Casa theatre space on Hope Street. Whether opera’s your thing or entirely new to you, Flat Pack Music, a company who brings classical opera to accessible spaces, have lots of fantastic shows coming up and I for one can’t wait to check out their next show at the Casa ‘The Sounds of Christmas’ on 12th December. You can also see La Bohème with full orchestra and community choir on 6th October at Hope Church in Hoylake as part of the Wirral Festival of Arts.

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Images courtesy of Flat Pack Music and Theatre at the Casa

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