Bohemian Comeback (KH)

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katharinahauptmann02_dlLast year in November I went to the new concert hall Harpa to see The Magic Flute by Mozart. I wasn't too impressed by the show and wrote about it in an article.

This spring, the Icelandic Opera showed their second production, Puccini's masterpiece La bohème which premiered March 16.

Last time I complained about the stage design which was partly due to the nature of the stage.

The hall Eldborg, where the operas are staged, is not exactly made for opera. The stage has no curtains, the orchestra is visibly located underneath the stage and there is no proscenium, which is the space between the pit and the stage. Also, the stage is quite small.

So there are a bunch of limitations the set designer and director have to overcome.

For this production, the Icelandic Opera hired British designer Will Bowen and director Jamie Hayes.

The pair did a marvelous job.

When entering Harpa, we were surprised to see costumed members of the choir walking around in the foyers just blending in with the visitors.

Since the stage doesn't have any curtains, the designer and director had the great idea to just start the opera beforehand.

With La bohème, Will Bowen and Jamie Hayes managed to create a wonderful and intriguing production and easily handled the challenging and limited setup of the stage by just incorporating it into the action.

For those who don't know, the story is set in Paris in the period around 1830.

Before the opera even started, the stage was crowded with the choir in colorful costumes, there were street vendors selling their goods, children running around and street performers showing off their skills, all accompanied by the sounds of an accordion.

It all seemed like a typical scene from the streets of bohemian Paris.

Like in the opera’s last production, the singers were all Icelandic.

Herdís Anna Jónasdóttir was a fine and feisty Musetta and soprano Þóra Einarsdóttir gave an outstanding vocal performance as the tragic Mimí.

You might remember that with The Magic Flute, I mentioned how unimpressed I had been with Garðar Thor Cortes' performance.

In La bohème it was totally different and I enjoyed Garðar’s singing very much. The role of the poet Rodolfo suited him much better than that of Prince Tamino, in my humble opinion.

Rodolfo's friends were sung by Ágúst Ólafsson, Hrólfur Sæmundsson and Jóhann Smári Sævarsson and all of them did a great job in portraying a bunch of jolly, bubbly friends.

For my taste, the best singers were Hrólfur Sæmundsson, Þóra Einarsdóttir and Garðar Thor Cortes.

From time to time the singers went into the auditorium and sang there. It was as if they were using the auditorium as an extension of the stage and it made us in the audience feel more involved in the plot.

Conductor Daníel Bjarnason led the Iceland Symphony Orchestra with great finesse and a wonderful musical sense.

By the way, La bohème is Daníel's favorite opera and it was obvious (or rather audible) how much he loves it. Just beautiful.

So, compared to the last production, the Icelandic Opera really raised their bar with La bohème.

The singers were vocally on top of their game, the set design was interesting and the unusual stage directing was just delightful.

This time, the opera was performed in its original language Italian but not translated into Icelandic. I was very happy about this fact.

There are two more shows left (on April 20 and 21). If you get the chance to go to the opera, you should.

Katharina Hauptmann – katha.hauptmann@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.