For its second summer offering Dorset Opera returns to the tried and tested with Puccini’s classic – a work that never palls no matter how many times one experiences it.
Peter Relton’s capable production pushes the period forwards from around 1830 by about a century, but the piece’s values remain genuinely timeless.
Designers Steve Howell and Rebecca Hopkins come up with a snazzy set and costumes to match; the stage is unusually crowded for the Café Momus scene, to accommodate the company’s vast and indefatigable chorus plus a small army of talented kids (Oliver Gill’s demanding child is particularly good). Relton arguably goes too far in turning Musetta’s admittedly show-off, showpiece Waltz Song into a full-scale production number that is practically a meta-theatrical intrusion; but it’s forgivable.
Leading the cast is Shelley Jackson, whose refulgent soprano imprints Mimi on the audience’s collective memory. Adam Smith’s Rodolfo has the odd moment of vocal insecurity but generally gives a perceptive and worthy account of an exposed and emotionally complex role.
Lauren Michelle’s Musetta registers as more applied from without than felt from within, but she certainly seizes her opportunities. Pauls Putnins’ superb Colline climaxes in an unusually moving account of the Coat Song.
His resilient baritone another major asset, Ross Ramgobin’s Schaunard enlivens every scene in which he takes part, while it says much for the varied artistry of Charles Johnston that before checking my programme I had assumed his expertly crafted comic turns as Benoit and Alcindoro to be delivered by different singers.
Peter Robinson conducts a performance observant of the kind of small but significant details in Puccini’s score most interpreters sail through without noticing, and equally possessing a keen sense of structure and tempo. Under his baton the orchestra and indeed the entire company are on terrific form.