La Boheme (September 2016)
"Dear Monika, Chere Monique really, as I'm still in Paris, let me now say something I have never said before, in years of devotion to the play and the opera. If it were possible to hear and see last night's performance of Boheme again tonight I should drop everything and get my picnic basket ready. The members of the audience who told me they sat weeping were numberless. I was certainly one of them. Che gelida is the first aria I ever heard and I learned it when I was twelve. Since then I've heard it often but never with that round, honeyed tone, offering caresses to notes well-known but which seemed to be being sung for the first time, to be being created for the divine moment, mi chiamano Mimi, Mimi whose unique tones then flowered into flights of sounds reaching beyond mere music, to hitherto unknown reaches of the psyche; and all sung standing charmingly still, or with gentle, restrained movement. It was not only perfect but perfect beyond imagination. That carefully chosen tempo brought out a beauty I'd never perceived before. Come come James. Isn't this just a little over the top? Can tones flower into flights? Well, yes, they can, as was proved at Woodhouse Copse last night. They did. Uniquely, too, I should say.
this came to us after the charming introduction of the students and the
landlord, each voice commanding the greatest respect and admiration,
certainly mine. How did she do it I thought, and how did they do it, so
many, such delightful voices?
Ever since I heard you were going to do Boheme on the hill I admit to having thought "Oh yes, and how is she going to get that bistro up there?" In the event it arrived without my noticing, and a delightful bistro it proved to be, a truly bistro-like set for the romp that Act 2 is, with an entrancing Musetta touching necks and shoulders, and all again with such wonderful voices. Nobody in the audience even wanted to move at that point - rare event, an unwelcome interval.
Until last night I have always resisted the subsequent acts. In a large theatre, on a large stage, Mimi's illness and death do not work. No director has the courage to close the action and the sound down properly for a narrative which nevertheless is only contained and confined, at length refining itself into Mimi's meagre expiry. For the first time (I seem to be saying that a lot) I stayed with every note of Mimi's withdrawal.
Nature seemed to be working with this wonderful Director all the time, the late sun spearing and dappling the set from behind as it came through the boughs and the branches and the leaves and then onto the stage with showers or sprinklings of orange and gold. I can only suppose you arranged that as well, a just reward for seeing the opera through the struggles of the previous evening.
spent the second half of the performance at the side of the orchestra
pit, known to me at least as the only genuine pit in Europe actually dug
out for an orchestra. How glad I was to be there. The sounds of those
players alone would have made the visit worth the trip. In the past
I've sat looking down at the bowers and the scrapers and the blowers and
thought "Now I know what life was like as a galley slave" but last
night there were times when I was looking down instead of ahead, looking
at the skilful fingers, listening to the restrained sound which was
sustaining everything all the time, even sometimes mesmerised by the
gentle rhythm of the baton.
I was very glad I'd taken a bottle of champagne along.
James McDonald, playright and ex-politician
Isolde Trenter - Music teacher
Mark Kissin - Surgeon