ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

13/09/2018 - 23/09/2018

Opera House, Wellington

04/10/2018 - 13/10/2018

Production Details

A lost key and an accidental touch of cold hands in the dark; so begins one of the great romances of all opera. Puccini’s glorious masterpiece of youth, passionate love and heartbreak springs to life in this exciting production by Jacqueline Coats. The world of the bohemians in this new production is a stylised one with the feel of snow-clad 1890s Paris, but not tied to one era. Period silhouettes mix with contemporary materials in a wintery setting for a story that remains timeless – how the world changes around the youths as they experience the highs and lows of being in love.

La bohème features the return of some of the most brilliant young New Zealand singers on the international stage – Thomas Atkins, Marlena Devoe, Julien Van Mellaerts, and Amelia Berry – along with Australians Timothy Newton and Nicholas Lester. Tobias Ringborg, who was last in New Zealand for Tosca in 2015, returns to conduct another of Puccini’s great operas.

Whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth, La bohème will remind you what it means to be alive and in love.

You can read the story line here

New Zealand Opera is presenting an audio described performance during its September / October 2018 season of La bohème in both Auckland and Wellington. This is a wonderful way to enjoy the full opera experience with the action onstage described through headsets discreetly throughout the performance. Prior to the performance there will also be an opportunity to take part in a touch tour.  New Zealand Opera staff, crew and the audiodescribers will be present to offer assistance as we take you onto the stage to get up close to the set, props and costumes. Guide dogs welcome.

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
September 13, 15, 19, 21 at 7.30pm
September 23 at 2.30pm
Touch tour, 12.30pm prior to the performance

Opera House, Wellington
October 4, 6, 11 at 7.30pm
October 9 at 6.30pm
Touch tour, 4.30pm prior to the performance
October 13 at 5pm  

Tickets available via Ticketmaster, 09 970 9754 (Auckland) or 0800 111 999
For those who require it, companion seating is provided free of charge.  

Conductor Tobias Ringborg
Director Jacqueline Coats
Set Designer Rachael Walker
Costume Designer Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting Designer Jennifer Lal

Rodolfo Thomas Atkins
Mimì Marlena Devoe
Marcello Nicholas Lester
Musetta Amelia Berry
Schaunard Julien Van Mellaerts
Colline Timothy Newton
Benoît/Alcindoro Barry Mora

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Orchestra Wellington

Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus
Sung in Italian with English surtitles

A New Zealand Opera production 

Theatre , Opera ,

2hr 20mins approx.

Superb cast, classy conductor make box-office opera La Boheme a must-see

Review by John Button 08th Oct 2018

La Boheme is a sure-fire, box-office opera, and this new production will – surely – sell out.  

Ever since its premiere in 1896 it has grabbed audiences with its mix of emotional hand wringing and its exotic setting of bohemian Paris in the 1830s, and even when productions stray from the atmosphere of the original it can still work.   

This production is a touch starker than some, although not modernistic like the 2008 production, and the lighting is basic, even a little brutal, making the cafe scene less sheerly festive than it perhaps should be. [More


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Chorus snappy, principals energised, orchestra superb

Review by Michael Hooper 15th Sep 2018

A poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher. Paris on a cold Christmas Eve. A fumbled key as a catalyst for love, a consumptive cough, estranged lovers and finally somebody dies. It’s quintessential opera and no-one does it better than the master of musical melodrama, Giacomo Puccini.  Bohème preceded Tosca, Madama Butterfly and, finally, Turandot and its music casts ripples into them.

La bohème was first presented in Turin in 1896 and its female lead roles – Mimi the quiet seamstress and her counterbalance, the vibrant Musetta – have attracted the cream of the world’s sopranos, including (Dame) Nellie Melba at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The story is easily understandable and the trials, triumphs and tragedy of love are universal and timeless, so it’s practically a guaranteed box office hit and a good earner.  The 1996 musical Rent is based on La bohème, where the disease (probably TB) that kills Mimi is “updated” to HIV/AIDS, and Baz Luhrmann took a trick or two from it for his film Moulin Rouge.

To summarise. The bohemians are flatmates and friends contemplating a cold, impoverished Christmas Eve in their art-centred loft. There, Mimi happens upon the poet Rodolfo and they rapidly fall in love, setting the stage for their painful separation by her death. The flirtatious Musetta has a history with one of the other flatmates, who cannot finance her expensive tastes. They all come together in Act 2 at the marketplace where Café Momus is situated. After the intermission we are on the outskirts of the city outside a tavern where the two pairs of relationships each develop their own very different angst. Finally we are back at the somewhat denuded garret flat. Bonhomie bleeds into sorrow as Mimi reaches the end of her life. 

All in all, it can be an exhilarating and eviscerating night of opera, with the expectation of extra tissues for the audience. However, director Jacqueline Coats has made it clear that she wants less focus on the maudlin and more on the merriment, and this is what she has delivered. Just bring the small pack of tissues.

Puccini lets many of his musical cats out of their bags early in the opera. ‘O Soave Fanciulla’ in Act 1, where Rodolfo sings of his new love lit by moonlight, is a recurring melody line that draws both love and sorrow through the opera and is one of the most famous arias in the opera repertoire, and indeed beyond it.  Then Musetta’s waltz at the market in Act 2 is another instantly recognisable show-stopper – both of them in the first hour.

Consequently the thematic flashbacks, as it were, have largely already made their greatest impacts before they recur in the final half of the opera, leaving potential for it to sag into a hole, into which, to some degree, this production falls. It is a bit hammock-shaped with the (to put not too fine a point on it) boring, two-dimensional set contributing little energy where it is needed.

That said, there’s also a lovely roundness and thematic cohesiveness to the score. Act 1 opens with brio, exposes the story then softens off to a love duet.  Acts 2 and 3 paint the picture of Paris in vocal watercolours, then in the final act the relationships are revisited as the inevitable conclusion leads to death bordering on bathos.

It’s hard to believe that it was ten years ago when Patrick Nolan, directing the NZO production at the time, told the Dominion “If we’re not disturbing an audience, we’re not honouring Puccini’s intentions.” The NZO Nolan/ Whiting/ Pasqualetti restaging in Christchurch, post-quake, did bring a singular and disturbing relevance, with its use of traffic cones and construction sites on-stage, and it was this that came immediately to mind as the curtain went up at the Aotea Centre on a fallen concrete beam slicing the stage horizontally at an acute angle. It was the roof of the artisans’ flat, and against it were the sharp angles of tilted picture frames. Ostensibly lit by three candles, lighting designer Jennifer Lal had chosen to wash it in a quite cold, unromantic light. 

Equally bright, but somewhat warmer in colour, the APO pounces into the score under Tobias Ringborg, remembered for his memory-only tour-de-force at the same podium for Tosca. The four, evenly-matched bohemians joust and joke, with Thomas Atkins, returning from the UK and the sheltering wing of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, using the part of Rodolfo to display subtle power and mellifluousness with a toss of bravado.  The Kiwi/Aussie mix of Nicholas Lester (Marcello), Julien Van Mellaerts (Schaunard) and Timothy Newton (Colline) all sing their parts well but are at their best in ensemble.  

The director’s comment that the cast are much the same age as the characters brings the interesting codicil that perhaps it takes greater maturity to really stage the emotions of the young, or perhaps their acting is just too small to fill the wide Aotea stage with the grand emotions of Puccini. This is not to underplay the developing vocal skills of the male quartet, I simply suggest that some of the previous, more experienced casts of NZO bohemians had greater depth to draw upon in their characterisations.

Barry Mora, who is to NZ Opera what Jon Trimmer is to the Royal NZ Ballet, doubles as Benoit the landlord and Alcindoro, Mimi’s sugar daddy. He seems to understand the over-statement needed for the mahi.

Ever-radiant, New Zealand-born Samoan Marlena Devoe glides effortlessly through the role of Mimi, slipping seamlessly from note to note with the fluidity of silk through the fingers.  Amelia Berry debuts the role of Musetta with sass and assurance; her development through her New York studies and previous NZO productions makes her a shoe-in for this. Her Zerlina in Don Giovanni keyed us in to her vocal range, while her wicked step-sister in la Cenerentola displayed her dramatic and comic skills. Her occupation of the stage in Act 2 especially – ‘When I walk Down the Street’ – shows a power that has her soaring above the orchestra and the rest of the cast in a newly-evident prowess. Ms Berry is testament to the artist development that NZO, the NZ Opera School and the two Great Dames, Kiri and Malvina, are bringing to the next generation.

The orchestral balance is, in a word, perfection. Puccini’s lush orchestration has tsunami potential, while his deep staccato punctuations can blast at the end of a vocal or chorus line like a cannon, if not moderated. His Castel Sant’Angelo chime preoccupation also lurks to over-ring the musical till, but the Swedish maestro has all this sublimely under control and the singers are never drowned out by, but always cossetted in the responsive and virtuosic musical embrace of the orchestra.

As maestro Pasqualetti explains, “with Puccini all you really have to do is follow the composer’s instructions”. Perhaps that also goes for the design. The composer describes: “An expanse of snow-covered roofs is seen” and then “a square with shops of all kinds”.  We are not treated to a realisation of this. There is no sense of perspective to the set, let alone any vista.  Using the legitimate freedom to depart from the prescription can push the design out of sympathy with the music or drama. Take the Café Momus in this staging, with its red neon sign, hung over the fallen concrete beam, and a swathe of apparently-severed bridge support cables, all squeezed downstage.  Add to that the white cloths representing snow, then overlay top hats and bowlers.  Somehow it falters in both expansiveness and cohesion. As does the Pied Piper figure of Parpignol parading “with all his toys” – when he doesn’t appear to have any.

Yes, this is good entertainment – an opera that celebrates art over life’s struggles, and friendship over misfortune – irrespective of money. The chorus is snappy, the principals are energised, the orchestra is superb.  A question remains about the depth of experience in the male cast and the cohesion of the production realisation.  


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