Opera Australia has again chosen to open its Summer Programme with the ever-popular La bohème in Gale Edwards' adaptation which features a change of environment and time to the final months of the 1930s Weimar Republic as featured in the musical Cabaret.

Natalie Aroyan (Mimì) and Yosep Kang (Rodolfo) © Branco Gaica
Natalie Aroyan (Mimì) and Yosep Kang (Rodolfo)
© Branco Gaica

I find it difficult to justify this alteration, similar to a line taken in many modern operatic productions. I feel that the artistic garret fits in beautifully with a Parisian background and not so well with pre-war Berlin. What is more, the change is only noticeable in the second act in the Café Momus where exposed bosoms and gartered stockings would hardly be out of place in Montmartre. But the production was snappy, well-rehearsed and consequently very enjoyable.

Yosep Kang continued the recent fashion of Korean Rodolfo's and his smooth tenor voice covered the large range required in excellent fashion. Acting ability is perhaps more important in this opera and Kang did not disappoint in this respect. The camaraderie with mischievous undertones between the four impoverished bohemians would be impossible to portray by music alone and the four acquitted themselves brilliantly in this respect.

Andrew Jones (Marcello), Shane Lowrencev (Schaunard) and Richard Anderson (Colline) © Branco Gaica
Andrew Jones (Marcello), Shane Lowrencev (Schaunard) and Richard Anderson (Colline)
© Branco Gaica

Andrew Jones gave a polished performance as Marcello with a strong baritone voice reinforced by strong brush stroke actions. Richard Anderson carried off the philosopher Colline's role with aplomb and he shone in his aria where he had to pawn his beloved coat for Mimì's medicine in Act IV. The other baritone role, Schaunard's was camped up by Shane Lawrencev very effectively and his height, close to that of the stilt-man in the second act, helped him with the required absurd quality.

Lovina Gore has made the part of Musetta her own and it was easy to see why-her coquettish appearance and behaviour – a cross between Marlene Dietrich and Madonna – suited the part to a tee. Her acting was superb and her ample soprano voice covered the huge emotional span required for the part. Her rendition of the famously raunchy waltz “Quando me'n vo'” was the highlight of the evening. Even Adrian Tamburini's Alcindoro seemed impressed enough to forget to complain about the bill playfully presented to him!

Adrian Tamburini (Alcindoro) and Lorina Gore (Musetta) © Branco Gaica
Adrian Tamburini (Alcindoro) and Lorina Gore (Musetta)
© Branco Gaica

As Mimì, Natalie Aroyan's lighter soprano stood up well but it is a notoriously difficult part and I found her acting a little flat under the circumstances. Mind you, to meet a stranger and fall in love with him in ten minutes isn't at all easy! The death scene, however, came over convincingly with the other four actors also contributing with finesse and sympathy.

The sets were sumptuous and the change from the street scene to the Café Momus with its private balconies in Act II was achieved with panache. The garret in the first and last acts is supposed to be spartan, of course, but I still felt the scenery could have been more imaginative. The Barrière d'enfer in the third act resembled a Russian Gulag and the transition to the action in the inn was not convincing.

The orchestra under Carlo Montenaro excelled itself. The recurring orchestral motif was handled bouncily and with subtle variations. The wind section is particularly prominent in La bohème and I found it faultless. I had some difficulty reading the surtitles, which were so high that I had to crane my neck.

A hugely enjoyable event overall with superb singing, excellent playing and slick acting with only the sets possibly leaving room for improvement.