music by Giacomo Puccini book and lyrics by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa translation and new words by Peter Cann.
Hackney Empire 291 Mare Street E8 1EJ In rep to 1 June 2012.
5pm 27 June.
7.30pm 22, 25, 29, 31 May, 1 June.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8985 2424.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 May.
New life on a different continent for Puccini favourite.
From 1830s Bohemian poverty in Paris, Puccini’s opera relocates, in Mark Dornford-May’s adaptation, to a South African township, opening on Youth Day, complete with rallying-cry from a speaker.
Youth Day commemorates the 1976 Soweto school rebellion against restrictive education for Black South Africans. And Isango’s production is produced with The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. TB, which kills Bohème’s Mimi, remains endemic in the townships from which many of this fine ensemble come.
The opera’s Café Momus becomes Momu’s bar in a production which mixes literal and free adaptation of the libretto, creating moments where Puccini’s music seem to take on the sound of a township chorale.
Most notably, there’s Isango’s distinctive marimba orchestra – six huge instruments accompanying the action throughout. There are losses in emotional climaxes, or the variety of instrumental sound, while a wordless chorus for the first act love scene tends to absorb the lovers’ solo voices, as instruments would not do.
But the marimbas can punctuate action sharply and provide a mellifluous sound, while their physical operation by the musicians adds to the ensemble sense. At the end their sound beats out with a vanishing resonance perfectly fitting the mood.
Mark Dornford-May’s production of an opera that has plenty of comedy is lively and fast-moving, though the chorus is subdued in the café scene, especially given its anniversary setting. And there’s a magnificent end to act three, where the two pairs of lovers part.
While Mandisi and Zoleke (Puccini’s Marcello and Musetta) quarrel at the foot of stairs from stage to auditorium, with an energy making it clear they’ll both survive easily enough, Lungelo (Rodolpho) and Mimi stand above them, closer, but severing a deeper relationship.
It’s clear in this production, the most musically demanding of the three Isango are bringing to Hackney, the company is crammed with accomplished singers. There may well be voices to beat them in the top-flight at major opera houses (where prices will certainly beat them), but they are as musical as music theatre gets, while Pauline Malefane’s voice gloriously floats the score’s highest phrases with beautiful phrasing.
Lungelo: Mhlekazi ‘Whawha’ Mosiea.
Mandisi: Simphiwe Mayeki.
Khollie: Luvo Rasemeni.
Sizwe: Katiego Mmusi.
Mimi: Pauline Malefane.
Zoleka: Nobulumko Mngxekeza.
Bhele: Zamile Gantana.
MP: Ayanda Eleki.
School Girl: Zoleka Mpotsha.
Rally Speaker: Tukela Pepeteka.
Atreet Dancers: Busisiwe Ngejane, Luvo Thamba, Thobile Dyasi.
Bar Women: Bongiwe Mapassa, Nontsusa Louw, Nontuthuzelo Ntshona, Zodwa Mrasi, Puleng Jackals, Zanele Mbatha, Noluthando Bogwana.
Bar Man: Sonwabo Ntshata.
Direcvtor: Mark Dornford-May.
Designer: Dan Watkins.
Lighting: Chloe Kenward.
Music Directors: Mandisi Dyantyis, Pauline Malefane.
Conductor: Mandisi Dyantyis.
Choreographer/Associate director: Lungelo Ngamlana.
Costume: Gail Behr.