Wednesday, October 13, 2010

REVIEW: La Boheme with the Opera Hong Kong

Opera Hong Kong’s latest offering, La Boheme was a mixed bag. The highlight were the “Chinese talents” and the nightmare was the production.

I have to declare that Puccini’s La Boheme is one of my all time favorite opera, thus I didn’t mind watching it twice. I watched the October 8 evening and the October 10 matinee performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre. But before I talk about each performance, let me talk about the production. I hated it.

When I say “production”, I refer to the direction & lighting design (Maurizio di Mattia), set & lighting design (Maurizio Varamo) and costume design (Anna Biagotti). And when I “hated” it, I mean it is the worst production of La Boheme I have ever seen on stage or on video. The annoying part about this production was that it doesn’t look like as if it was in shortage of money; instead it was in shortage of creativity and logic.

Take the set design for instance for Act I, it looks like as if they live under the Eiffel Tower, yet the panoramic view behind it made it looks like they were living on top of the tower. Okay, perhaps the steel structure was a bridge but that doesn’t explain the view unless it was a scene from the movie Inception.

Or take the costume in Act I and II, what was the season they were in? The guys were cold enough to burn the manuscript of Rodolfo’s drama, yet they can’t be bothered to roll down their sleeves and wear their jacket? How about the boater’s hat in Act II? Was it summer?

Or take Parpignol appearing in Act III and Act IV in a ghostly way, why? I have seen a lot of artsy fartsy stuff in opera productions but this is one of the most coward one. If one wants to go in that direction, one has to go all the way.

The whole production team does not only look like as if they didn’t talk to each other, but also does not look like they know anything about the opera.

Okay, now that I got that out of my chest, let me talk about the performance. Starting with the common elements, Opera Hong Kong Chorus did fine on the singing side, but went overboard on the acting side. I wonder if they even had any direction from the director. The Opera Hong Kong Children Chorus on the other hand provided a superb performance. I have to admit that I do like the effect of the Diocesan Boys’ School Orchestra in Act II, it was a nice touch that pinned down the drifting production.

The October 8 principal cast was… okay… Jesus Gracia as Rodolfo has a beautiful voice with a lovely timbre but unfortunately, it doesn’t travel far. Sabina Cvilak as Mimi has a steely edge to her effortless voice and displayed shades of expression. Other principals provided a vocally appealing performance with special mention to Brian Kontes as Colline whose voice has great character and warmth. As an ensemble, the acting was a bit reserved and lack of chemistry. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra led by Gianluca Martinenghi drew a supple performance.

The October 10 principal cast was not better, but then I wasn’t expecting the “Chinese” cast to be… I even paid less for exactly the same seat! What really surprised me when I was watching the “Chinese” cast was that the ensemble was so much tighter and more balanced. For some reason, the singers (except for Sammy Chien) had certain youthful abandonments and lyric voices that made the portrayals more believable. Xue Haoyin as Rodolfo sang with bright lyric tone that cut through the orchestra with ease. Yuki Ip’s voice had a lovely timbre and shaped phrases carefully and sumptuously. Freddie Tong, playing Colline, provided one of the best overall performances in the two shows I’ve seen. He was always in character and his commanding bass voice was never harsh. And when one thought that the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra can’t get any better, this performance led by Bruno Aprea delivered a cleaner and more even sound that seems to let the story unfold naturally.

Personally, the October 8 evening performance didn’t give me much. At least with the October 10 matinee performance, I had the sensation of seeing possibilities and promises unfolding in front of me. All the more, one should never underestimate having a balanced cast. In totality, I actually enjoyed the “Chinese” talents more.

P.S. There is another cast alternating that I didn’t get the chance to see. According to a friend of mine who had seen all three casts, this cast was the worst… There you go; I have something to be thankful for!

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At October 15, 2010 at 12:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares about your opinion? Who are you? It must be nice to sit on your pedestal and judge people who are actually making a living in the artistic world.

They will all move on in their international careers and you'll probably never write anything other than substandard reviews on lame blogs.

Furthermore, who are you serving by posting this review after the end of the production? If you really wanted to serve the arts community with your words of wisdom, perhaps you should have picketed outside of the theater before the remaining performances.

I hope your poisonous words are hurled back upon you one day. Then, perhaps you'll have the experience of having your efforts shat upon.

At October 15, 2010 at 2:51 PM , Blogger SATOSHI said...

YOU! You care... care enough to write :-) Who am I? You may read ABOUT ME in my blog.

As for sitting on my pedestal and judge people who are actually making a living in the artistic world... well... that requires a longer response...

First of all, I am not sitting on any pedestal, I am looking up to the pedestal. On this pedestal are where confident people voluntarily organized themselves, invited audience (like me) to pay to watch them perform. The reality was that I was not reviewing a rehearsal or reviewing people who were forced to perform. These people invited me to pay good money to watch them perform. By the virtue of this transaction, I do feel that I have every right to have an opinion whether the service (performance) rendered was up to my standard or liking.

I do understand that these same people make a living in the artistic world... and that "living" is made from people like me who pays... I also make a living in the business world... there's no difference. We all provide a service or a product that we hope that the market will pay and appreciate so that we can live. The artistic world is no more precious than the others.

I do wish all the artists to have an international career. My writing should not stop any artist from doing so. If it does, most probably they do not deserve to have an international artist. At the end of the day, as you said, this is a lame blog, right?

Now, let me give you some advice, if you are an artist, regardless whether you are involved with La Boheme or not, GIVE UP or GROW UP! Getting good and bad reviews come with the territory of being an artist. If you can't accept a criticism from a blog or let the criticism slide off your shoulder... the brutal world of art is not for you.

If you are a friend of an artist involved in this production, I believe that you should just let the artist do his or her work.

P.S. Picketing outside the theater as a way to serve the art community? Are you serious? What good is disrupting a performance, or creating disturbances so that people will not attend the opera and therefore the artists can't be paid? Duh?


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