Classic opera gets a twist, as Opera North’s Puccini comes to city

La petite bohème, Opera North’s innovative new take on Puccini’s classic tale of tragic young love.

Promising classic arias and heartbreaking performances in an up-close, intimate staging, La petite bohème, Opera North’s innovative new take on Puccini’s classic tale of tragic young love, comes to the University of Hull’s Middleton Hall on Saturday 16 November.

Specially designed for the venue, this bespoke, condensed version of one of the best-loved operas of all time features members of the international cast of Opera North’s mainstage production of La bohème – and places the action in the University itself.

The timeless plot revolves around a tragic love affair between two impoverished bohemians. Seamstress Mimì (sung by soprano Katie Bird) and poet Rodolfo (tenor Thomas Atkins) meet and fall in love one freezing Christmas Eve, when Mimì knocks on Rodolfo’s door looking for a light for her candle.

Both singers are veterans in their roles, currently on tour with Opera North’s acclaimed mainstage version of La bohème. Excited at the idea of taking the opera to a new audience, they’re also passionate about its relevance to our own times.  

La bohème is a story that everyone can understand – we’ve all potentially been through it ourselves as any of the characters”, says Thomas, who’s previous sung the role of Rodolfo with his native New Zealand Opera. “Rodolfo is a poet, and a guy that feels everything very deeply. I think he’s a character who many people can relate to, because once you fall in love, you get a bit crazy and feel all these things so much more than you would normally!”

“It’s a story about real people and real relationships”, adds Katie. “You can’t help but fall in love with the characters. You laugh, you smile, you cry – it has everything, and the music is stunning. It’s a bit like being in a film, and you get to peep inside these dreamers’ lives.”

“If it’s your first time at the opera, La bohème is just perfect”, says Thomas. “You’ve got love, tragedy, heartbreak, joy, comedy and some of the most beautiful music ever written.”

Director Rosie Purdie, who has worked with Opera North’s Head of Music David Cowan to adapt La bohème for this one-off performance, says: We wanted to set the production loosely in the present day, on campus and in university halls of residence.

La bohème is about young friends messing about, falling in love, learning about the world, and ultimately, growing up. These themes can resonate with everyone but we think that the people of Hull, and students in particular, will relate to the characters, and their experience of the opera might be enhanced if it’s set in a world that’s immediately recognisable.

Bohème doesn’t require large sets and expensive costumes to communicate the different relationships of the characters or to evoke intense emotions from our audience. Our production will be minimal but charming, much like a student flat.

“We’re hoping to include several immersive elements, possibly bringing in some familiar faces to give La Petite bohème its own individual flair.”

The cast is completed by Timothy Nelson as Marcello, a painter, Samantha Clarke as Mimì’s friend, the singer Musetta, and Henry Neill as Schaunard, a musician. David Cowan provides the piano accompaniment. La petite bohème is specially commissioned as part of Opera North’s partnership with the University of Hull, working to connect with surrounding communities and to nurture rising talent.

Opera North’s La petite bohème comes to the University of Hull’s Middleton Hall for one night only on Saturday 16 November at 7.30pm. To book tickets, priced at £15 (£10 for students, ages 16 and under, and retired Over 60s), visit operanorth.co.uk or call Box Office on 0113 2233600. 

[Rowland Thomas – Opera North]

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