Love In Paris

Rating: 4

by Margaret Bemand

Giacomo Puccini’s tale of love and death among poor artists in Paris has become one of the most loved operas. There cannot be many opera-goers who don’t know every note from the first off-beat chord. It’s an ideal piece for this time of the year, with the first two acts (pre-interval) full of rollicking pre-Christmas cheer and love, and a tear-jerker of a second half.

This revival of Jonathan Miller’s 2009 production sets the story in the 1930s. There’s a clever set that allows us to see characters enter before the figures already on stage – we have sympathy with the men scurrying around before the landlord turns up, we feel for Mimì as she loses the flame from her candle. But it has its disadvantages too – when the (excellent) chorus is on stage at the end of the second act in the happy, chaotic street scene, the scenery takes up so much space that it seems claustrophobic. Nineteen- thirties costumes are great for the men – comfy shirts and baggy trousers for the impoverished artists and a sharp suit for Benoît/Alcindor, but it’s tougher on the women. Mimì, the waif-like seamstress, is dressed in black with a nun-like collar, and Musetta, the magnetic, big hearted showgirl, is not helped by her dowdy check frock.

To the singers. Mimì is a hard role to play – a delicate consumptive who has some of the most demanding singing, and Natalya Romaniw is certainly up to it. In fact, she rather out-sings Rodolfo (Jonathan Tetelman), who, though strong, seems underpowered in comparison. Musetta’s role in the first half is to sparkle and shine, and there’s no doubt that Nadine Benjamin fills the role well, and as a sympathetic, caring friend in the second half, she is also top-class.

The four young men are well-matched, making a charismatic, attractive quartet. The most memorable performance of the night, though, is from Simon Butteriss, who hams up the comedy characters of Benoît and Alcindor quite delightfully.

Conductor alexander Joel may be new to the Eno, but he and the orchestra know this piece like the back of their hands. The music sweeps along confidently and joyously. The audience will still be humming the tunes three days later – just right for a winter treat.

Limited run until 22 February 2019 at the Coliseum, London: 020-7845 9300, www.londoncoliseum.org

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