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Review: La Boheme and Aida at Sunderland Empire

Dick Godfrey caught two of opera's greats at Sunderland Empire during their seven-month tour

***
Sunderland Empire
Sunderland Empire

They were two of opera’s greats. But over two nights we have been able to see how differently Giacomo Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi approached their craft.

La Boheme is typical Puccini, closely focused on contemporaries of the composer at a time not too distant from us.

We become absorbed by the lives and relationships of a group of what we recognise as hippies in late 19th Century Paris. It is very domestic.

Verdi takes a much broader approach, placing his characters against the backdrop of ancient Egypt.

They are swept up in great events – a war between Egypt and neighbouring Ethiopia.

And while La Boheme’s characters face life’s quite normal problems, those swept up in Aida’s great events struggle with much bigger issues in a situation firmly based on the classical Greek definition of drama. There is a marked difference in intensity.

Of the two – and for the reasons above – it is much easier to connect with La Boheme.

We feel for Mimi and Rodolfo, while we simply sympathise with the Ethiopian slave and her Egyptian lover Rademese in Aida.

All the principal roles are performed with the vocal skills we have come to expect from this Moldovan company, under the direction of Ellen Kent’s Opera and Ballet International.

The same cannot be said of the sets which, unusually for an Ellen Kent production, are minimalist to the point of being quite unsatisfactory, especially for La Boheme.

But for a tour lasting seven months and taking in an extraordinary 41 venues, I guess portability and ease of erection is paramamount. A shame, nevertheless.

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