Opera on Location is thrilled to be working with Museums Sheffield through setting Puccini’s classic opera, La bohème, in Graves Gallery for a series of intimate performances.
Rodolfo, a highly educated poet from a wealthy family has found himself disinherited, disenfranchised and squatting in a once grand stately home, now slowly crumbling around him. Desperately striving to maintain the pretence of a chosen bohemian lifestyle, along with his companions, Schaunard, Marcello and Colline, their drug-addled days merge from one into another.
However, upon a chance encounter with the mysterious and beautiful woman of the night; Mimi, Rodolfo’s life is changed forever. A brief, hedonistic affair ends in sorrow and tragedy. There seems to be no room in their world of hallucinations, sex and poverty for love and beauty.
Performed promenade-style at the Graves Gallery, you will feel as if you are not just watching but are a part of this tragic love story. This unique setting for Puccini’s seminal work gives you the chance to be sat in the four young mens’ bedroom, move with them to streets of the city, feel the joys and highs of new and rekindled love and the bitter sorrow of heartbreak.
Born into a long line of church musicians, Puccini was, as expected, at first a church organist. However, after gaining a place at the Milan Conservatory he soon turned his immense talent to opera. Puccini wrote twelve operas in total including the much beloved La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Gianni Schicchi and Turandot which was completed posthumously first by Franco Alfano and then later again by Luciano Berio.
Cast and Creatives
Location: Graves Gallery
Hidden away on the third floor of the Central Library, Graves Gallery is a hidden gem in Sheffield’s cultural scene. Managed by Museums Sheffield, the gallery is home to Sheffield’s fine art collection and includes a wide variety of works by artists including: Bridget Riley, Marc Quinn, J.M.W. Turner and Edward Burne-Jones along with an impressive programme of contemporary exhibitions.
Sarah Cockburn (Our Favourite Places), July 30 2014
Enterprising company Opera on Location have brought Puccini’s tale of Bohemian tragedy to the atmospheric surroundings of Museums Sheffield Graves Gallery at night, and it’s a winning combination.
The story centres on Rodolfo, a young poet who has been disinherited by his wealthy family and lives in penury with only literary inspiration to keep him warm – he even resorts to burning his poems in the brazier. He’s part of a set of similarly impoverished young dandies pursuing a variety of artistic dreams and downing a good deal of gin in the attempt. When Mimi, local girl fallen on hard times, comes round to Rofolfo’s hovel to get a light for her candle (operatic equivalent to a cup of sugar?!) they fall in love and so starts a tempestuous and ultimately tragic affair. Given the youth of the cast, the modern dress – chinos for the boys and skinny jeans for the girls – and the constant relationship angst, the whole effect is of that an operatic version of Made in Chelsea in which the bank of mum and dad have cut up the credit cards.
La bohème is a tragedy but the spritely English libretto, featuring a few concessions to the Sheffield setting – The Star: check, Arctic Monkeys: check – is full of wit and joie de vivre as it explores the slightly sleazy world of these misfits. The rent collector Benoit is a lecherous wide boy who is soon outwitted by the unscrupulous toffs. Meanwhile preppy drug-dealer Parpignol wheels round a whole travel case of illicit substances for when the grubby reality of their existence gets too much. The young cast are full of brio and possessed of truly glorious voices which soar unamplified in the intimate surroundings of the Graves Gallery. Gareth Lloyd as Rodolfo has an incredibly rich tone to his singing while Andrea Tweedale as the consumptive Mimi manages to maintain both a beauty and delicacy to her arias as her strength fails. Painter Marcello (Aidan Edwards) and good-time-girl Musetta (Chloe Saywell) provide an excellent foil to the central couple in their fiery flirtation. Arguably Saywell steals the show as her pitch perfect voice veers into the realms of penetrating hysteria during a fabulous femme-fatale set piece.
But the real magic of the evening is revealed in the company name – location, location, location. Simply being in the elegant Graves Gallery after hours feels like a special treat, and hearing it animated by exquisite music is an absolute privilege. The promenade production starts in Gallery VI, the priceless 18th century paintings on the wall contrasting with the squalor of Rodolfo’s dig, brings to mind the squatter’s paradise of a crumbling manor house. Gallery V provides the setting for the character’s all night bender with Stanley Spencer’s Helter Skelter providing a suitably hallucinogenic image. In a following scene Mimi hides behind a sculpture case to eavesdrop on her lover, mirroring Edna Manley’s life-size Eve on the other side of the room. They both look upon the scene with the horror of revelation. These synergies of scene and setting make the performance unique.
More Opera on Location please, and more transformative uses of Sheffield’s loveliest gallery.