This month I have seen some fantastic, passionate and eye-opening theatre whilst sitting in some unusual seats. I have seen an empowering and emotive tribute to Belfast female footballers, womankind and performers; Tara-Lynne O’Neills Rough Girls at the Lyric Theatre Belfast, where I sat on stage amongst the performers and gazed out at the audience.

I watched a hauntingly beautiful production of Carson and the Lady written by Michael Cameron and directed by Colm G Doran which was performed in the ruins of Lord and Lady Massereene’s stately house in Antrim Castle Gardens and last night I heard angelic voices fill the eaves of the Carlisle Memorial Church with a beautiful production of Puccini’s La Bohème by Northern Ireland Opera. So you see dear reader art and artists can flourish in even the hardest of circumstances and bring light and fun to even the darkest spots in our life, we will perform outdoors, in ruins and empty churches but we can also adorn the theatres and stages built to entertain. Art and creatives cannot be contained. So this month I ask you to support our venues and support our artists and creatives whether it is online, offline, site specific, outdoors or indoors.  Now back to the review…

La Bohème by Northern Ireland Opera is a complete and utter triumph. From the moment I took my seat my eyes devoured the beautiful but decayed church and the set which became part of it, a walkway with levels and a live orchestra in a pit around the sides and in the middle, a few performers sitting in wait for what was about to begin. I scanned the audience and realised that this wasn’t the usual hundreds of seats behind me but actually less than a hundred, this was something very special, intimate. The conductor took up her position (front and centre, not hidden away in a dark pit) and the lights dimmed down to candlelight, the musicians tuned their instruments and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.  Artistic Director Cameron Menzies introduced us to the piece and explained that this may not be a financial endeavour but it was very much an artistic one that the company are supporting those both on stage and off stage with this production and I have to applaud him for this, to began his programme of  live work at the company with a beautiful and poignant love song to artists, creatives and lovers; La Bohème. 

Readers of this blog will know I am not an opera aficionado but every opera performance I see gives me a boost in serotonin. This production was no exception. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful notes, the plot and the setting and just to be seeing LIVE opera yet again. Any musical lover and theatre child  (myself included) knows every line to RENT but we are easy to forget that La Bohème was Larsons inspiration. The stories are similar, of course, struggling artists avoiding the landlord’s demand for rent, a chance encounter by candlelight and an unfortunate tragic death but Puccini’s version is also funny, optimistic and taps into the human spirit of hope, something we have needed a lot of over the past 18months.

Ensemble and in fact conductor Rebecca Lang gave an energetic performance throughout, the pace was upbeat and brisk and at no point did I feel the time drag. I actually remarked to the audience member distanced beside me how the time was flying by. Cast moved throughout the set coming up close and personal to deliver almost secretly their innermost feelings. The two main couples of the piece (Rodolfo played by American tenor Noah Stewart with partner Mimi played by Gemma Summerfield and Musetto played by Emma Morwood with partner Marcello played by Ukiranian Baritone Yuriy Yurchuk) were set at parallel angles throughout as we compared the two relationships, one a love at first sight relationship and the other more comical love/hate relationship. Local performer Morwood in my opinion stole the piece from her introduction as the landlord’s lover who only had eyes form Marcello, she stole my eye with her choreography; dramatic sways and provocative looks and of course her animated performance of Musetta’s Waltz which garnered more than a giggle from the audience. With that said, the chemistry between Morwood and Yurchuk made the scene.

A mention should also be given to Stewart and Summerfields final scene, Mimi’s death scene which although is inevitable was beautifully performed and echoed throughout the empty church leaving not a dry eye in the audience, the two professionals delivering a breathtaking performance throughout. A would also be remiss to not mention the opening of Act3 with the elegant Pierrots performing a beautifully lit snow dance.

Overall a fantastically atmospheric and moving piece well worth a night in an empty church in North Belfast but as Colline (played with conviction by Edmund Danon) so rightly put it you will need a great coat. 

Emer D xx

Find out more about NI Opera at niopera.com.

Photo credits Helen Sloan