La Petite Bohème is a sort of stylised pop video but for a piece of opera. I suppose that could make it an op video. I did indeed remind me of those wonderful pre-war animations which used to be shown on The Old Grey Whistle Test to give some obscure album track a bit of visual impact and make it suitable for the telly. Ah, the days of Richard Williams and ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris.
As this was opera there was no ‘whispering’ involved, just the wonderful arias from the third act of La Bohème leading up to the demise of the main character, Mimi. Not the cheeriest thing for the Festive Season but the music and performances were sublime.
This work by Puccini has been turned into an animated film made by using paper cut-outs and other objects to convey the story. It isn’t a faithful reproduction of the theatre work but an impressionistic interpretation. The recreation of Paris is very evocative and adds to the ambience brilliantly. The subtitles are also made using paper cut-outs, in some instances looking like ransom demands. Again, the titles are not totally verbatim so there are short passages when the listener doesn’t know exactly what is being sung, but there are enough to enable you to get the drift. Of course, if you are fluent in Italian that is not a problem.
The film begins with a short explanation as to who the characters are as they sing their arias, so that is helpful for anyone not familiar with the opera. There are only four of them so that doesn’t take long, and neither does the backstory which reveals itself as we go along.
As you would expect, on this new recording, the Orchestra of Opera North is in tremendous form under the baton of Matthew Kofi Waldren. The four soloists; Katie Bird as Mimi; Thomas Atkins, Rodolfo; James Kryshak, Musetto and Timothy Nelson as Marcello were superb. I must say that the cut-outs of the four characters were not exactly flattering, but there you go. A balance of the yin and yang.
The original plan was that Matthew Robins’ film was to be projected onto several public buildings in Leeds and other towns and cities in the North of England, but COVID put paid to that. I must say that the format does lend itself very well to the transformation to the small screens of mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops although I am looking forward to the day when I can see it in its intended habitat. I think that that will be at the end of next year as it needs to be dark enough for the projection to work and I am sure that some of the most impressive parts will be the snowstorms, hardly conducive to July, although after this year, who is to say what 2021 has in store for us.
Tickets to access the streaming, which runs until 4th January, 2021, cost just £4.99 which is only the price of a pint in a city centre pub, if they were open! The running time is just over 20 minutes.
To book go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/ and follow the links.
Feature image provided by Opera North