Before she helmed the global hit Mamma Mia!, Phyllida Lloyd began her career as an opera director with Opera North in 1991. Now, her staging of Puccini’s tale of Bohemian life in Paris returns to Leeds for its third revival.
Lloyd’s production is shot through with a breezy charm. It’s buoyant and enjoyable and you can’t help but be swept along with it. The multinational cast is exceptional, with Anush Hovhannisyan, making her Opera North debut as a flirty Musetta, nicely playing off Ukrainian baritone Yuriy Yurchuk as Marcello.
The quality of the vocal performances is superb. Lauren Fagan, as the doomed Mimi, gives a gorgeous rendition of Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi, shortly before duetting with Eleazar Rodriguez on a moonlit O Soave Fanciulla that proves to be one of the highlights of the evening.
Anthony Ward’s set is a dazzlingly effective one, evoking the period detail of the bohemian apartment in Act I, as well as a cool, noir-ish exterior in Act III. There are some lovely touches throughout – Rodolpho’s Warholian portraits of Musetta, a drag Marilyn Monroe and a sinister Parpignol, styled as a roller-skating child catcher.
Yet for all its wit and lightness of touch, La Boheme is a piece of emotional heft and Lloyd’s production pulls this off masterfully. It’s just as adept at making its audience cry as making them laugh, and is all the stronger for it.