Few eyes remain dry at the end of La Bohème, mine included, and no less in the magnificent production put on at Gozo’s Aurora Opera House. After the performance here were tears (of joy) too backstage, shed by some of the key members of the team responsible for this success. It undoubtedly marks a high peak of achievement in opera production in Gozo.
There is no need to delve into the well-known plot of this timeless, gripping story of love and lovers’ tiffs, hope and struggling ambition in a world of material poverty, but one rich in humanity. Where does one begin to single out the elements responsible for this great and emotional experience? Well, it is stage and set designer, [set artist Paul Falzon], as well as artistic director Vivien Hewitt. Heavens alive: this lady is positively possessed by Puccini’s spirit: remember last year’s groundbreaking Tosca, also at the Aurora? Her direction of Bohème made it feel one of the most authentic I have ever experienced. (En passant, a tree trunk outside the Barrière d’Enfer would have provided a perfectly realistic screen for the eavesdropping Mimì in act three). That said, it was an admirably, slickly paced performance with the crowd scene very well-handled in act two.
Then of course there is the music itself, the excellent mood-setter par excellence which was a job well-carried off by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, leader Marcelline Agius, under the baton of that tireless bundle of energy, Colin Attard, who also coached the well-honed Aurora Opera Chorus. The touch of authenticity of 1840s Paris was also reflected in the costumes: a fine piece of work by Luke Azzopardi who added a touch of realism to the production.
Heavens alive: this lady is positively possessed by Puccini’s spirit
All the above would not have been enough without a good cast of singers. After all opera is sung music and heading a very interesting cast was an outstanding singer, Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze. She has that rare combination of vocal prowess, presence, acting and superb good looks. How could Rodolfo not fall in love at first sight with her? Machaidze’s performance was consistently excellent.
One could not say the same of Ivan Defabiani’s Rodolfo: at least not in the first act where he seemed to drag tempo, and lacked a well-rounded tone with erratically phrased singing. However, he was on very fine form for the rest of the opera, especially in his duet with Mimì in act three, which merges into a quartet with Musetta, the tart with a heart, and Marcello, respectively performed by soprano Maria Novella Malfatti and baritone Krum Galabov. Malfatti excellently delivered the goods during her great moments in Act two while Galabov was, after Rodolfo, the busiest of the impoverished quartet of bohèmiens. A reliable friend and mediator, with a fine warm voice which had a well-earned opportunity to excel in his act four duet with Rodolfo.
Bass Mariano Buccino’s role of the philosopher Colline carries with it a consolation solo: the very moving Vecchia zimarra senti in act four. Puccini had conceived a slightly bigger role for Schaunard but decided not to. His is the least considered role of the four bohèmiens but adds body to the texture of the ensemble singing, especially in act two. Baritone Enrico Marabelli did his best with his role which he acted and sang out well. Bass Dario Giorgelè performed a double role as a doubly-duped character: Benoît, the unsuccessful rent collector and Alcindoro, Musetta’s quickly discarded sugar daddy. Young Gozitan tenor Angelo Muscat made a brief appearance as Parpignol in act two.
One has to congratulate and appreciate the vast amount of voluntary work done by enthusiasts attached to Leone Philharmonic Society as well as the many sponsors who have always striven to raise the standards of opera production in Gozo. This performance was jointly dedicated to the memory of the late John Cremona, president of the Leone Philharmonic Society, who was the main driving force behind the building of the Aurora Opera House and its inauguration in 1978. The other dedicatee was Flavia Tabili, who was the first soprano to sing at the Aurora in the title role of Madama Butterfly. They passed away within three days of each other in February this year.