Edinburgh’s Grand bohème

Mar 13 2016 | By More

EGO bring La bohème to Church Hill

This week Edinburgh Grand Opera is bringing Puccini’s La bohème to the Church Hill Theatre for just three dates.

The company merges an amateur chorus with professional soloists and creatives. Æ found out from this year’s director Kally Lloyd-Jones her thought’s on tackling one of the big operas in the repertoire.

Deborah Rudden (Mimi) and Luke Sinclair (Rodolfo) in rehearsal. Photo: Margot Watson

Deborah Rudden (Mimi) and Luke Sinclair (Rodolfo) in rehearsal. Photo: Margot Watson

Lloyd-Jones is best known in dance circles as the artistic director of Company Chordelia. But opera fans who read their programmes carefully will also know her as a regular choreographer for the likes of Scottish Opera.

Indeed, it is just a few weeks since her hugely effective choreography was seen at the Festival Theatre in the well-received production of Ariodante. Ostensibly a celebratory wedding ballet signifying Cupid’s blind love, it became a much darker and vital part of the understanding and interpretation of the plot.

She is no stranger to directing operas, either, having helmed last year’s offering from EGO,  L’elisir d’amore. In total she has worked on 32 opera productions as movement director or choreographer and directed six operas not to mention opera scenes at the RCS.

“It has certainly added up!” she says. “They have been of quite a variety of style, scale and company but actually La bohème was the very first opera I worked on so it has been such a great pleasure to return to it, this time to direct it and with the luxury of a chorus.

“It is an opera I love and which never fails to move me because it is psychologically sophisticated and tells a story we can believe.”

core repertoire

For those who don’t know, La bohème is set on a vibrant Christmas eve in the Latin Quarter of Paris where four struggling artists live the bohemian life to the full. When the poet Rodolfo meets seamstress Mimi they fall madly in love – but she is devastatingly ill and their world falls apart.

It’s part of the core repertoire for the big opera companies, a list of about ten operas which are the guaranteed money-earners. And as a consequence attracting the star names to both the creative and the performer side. Not to mention big, expensive productions. Not so with EGO as Lloyd-Jones explains.

Hazel McBain (Musetta) in rehearsal. Photo Margot Watson

Hazel McBain (Musetta) in rehearsal. Photo Margot Watson

“Working with Edinburgh Grand Opera provides a set of unique opportunities – an experienced and vibrant chorus, a small orchestra, an intimate venue and a cast of extremely talented young singers who, I have no doubt, you will be seeing much of in the future.

“This combination of ingredients makes core repertoire very appealing to me because I like working in this scale.  We see the details, we see the thoughts and feelings of the singers – it is less about spectacle and more about realism.

“Janis Hart the designer is superb at being inventive with available resources,” she continues. “We have worked to create a production which highlights the story of the all the young people.

We have set it somewhere both abstract and real. The white space is hung with picture frames, framing life, which tells us something about the bohemians view of themselves. And while the costumes are early 1900s in flavour it is a reflection of the feeling of the period and the bohemian sensibility, and gives a timeless quality.”

self-conscious abandon

The young soloists with names to mark down for future reference include Dewar Award winners Deborah Rudden as Mimi and Hazel McBain as the singer, Musetta. Rising tenor star Luke Sinclair will sing Rodolpho, Opera Bohemia co-founder Douglas Nairne will sing the painter Marcello, with Tim Edmundson the musician Schaunard and Donald Thomson as the philosopher  Colline.

Rather more established is EGO patron and leading international baritone Donald Maxwell who will take the roles of the dupes who end up paying for the bohemian’s frivolity: their landlord Benoit and Musetta’s rich lover, the councillor Alcindoro.

“For me, it is a real gift to have such a young cast because the opera is so much about youth and about tragedy. I always feel that the story is fundamentally about not only Mimi and Rodolfo but about how all of those characters deal with the idea of death, and their journey from carefree, self-conscious abandon to a greater realisation about themselves and life.

“Susannah Wapshott, our music director and conductor has such a clear vision for the music and we work together towards something that honours the wonderful and familiar intentions of Puccini and brings the drama to life with emotional force.”

Given that Kally Lloyd-Jones is best known for her Company Chordelia, not to mention those 32 operas as choreographer, it does occur to ask her how much of a dance aesthetic she is bringing to this production.

“There are a couple of slightly dancey moments in the production!” she admits. “And while I am sure my movement background informs the way I see and work, I think of myself as a story teller more than anything.”


La Bohéme
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 16, Friday 18/Saturday 19 March 2016
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets from the Usher Hall tickets site: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/venue/church-hill-theatre

Edinburgh Grand Opera website: http://www.edinburghgrand.com


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