Opera on an English summer evening can be a risky business except at Longborough, where last night we enjoyed a fine supper in amusing company and a terrific performance of that old tear-jerker, La Boheme. Wise friends booked a table in a marquee for our picnic and the performance itself takes place in a comfortable, if basic, opera house created from a farm building some years ago. Still, heavy rain could mean a muddy field and a soggy evening all round, so we were relieved that the weather stayed dry and clear.
A cast of young singers in a contemporary set could have resulted in a performance which was memorable for all the wrong reasons: We still remember the performance of Rigoletto we saw in Sydney Opera House many years ago, not for the wonderful singing or the great production, but for the "hu-u-p" uttered by the henchmen as they lifted the sack containing a rather well-upholstered Gilda causing a few giggles in the audience. But last night we could sit back and let Puccini play to all our emotions exactly as he designed.
The young cast played convincing roles - I've seen a few productions with singers who looked far too well-fed to persuade me that they were starving artists. Noel Hernandez, playing Rodolfo, looked a bit uncomfortable in his role at times but won me over with his fine voice and overwhelming ability to raise his game at all the right moments. Madeleine Pierard was a wonderful young Musetta and Duncan Rock a fine Marcello.
Ultimately, though, it's Puccini himself who works the magic. No matter how many times I hear it, even though I know what happens and I'm aware of the trick of the suspended note and spoken words when Mimi dies, it always makes me cry.