Opera Theatre Company marks 30th year with La bohème tour

Puccini melodrama set in 19th century Paris being sung in Italian with English surtitles

Opera Theatre Company, currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, is beginning another national tour tomorrow evening.

This time with a difference, as the work, La bohème, Puccini’s lively, much loved melodrama of doomed love in early 19th century Paris, will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

It is the first time the company has performed an opera in its original language.

It seems a bold move, if a welcome one. Opera Theatre Company, as Ireland's only year-round touring opera ensemble, was formed in 1986 with the objective of bringing quality world opera, both classic and modern, throughout Ireland - sung in English. The plan was to entertain if also to inform - often difficult in the context of the arts.


In balancing this educational aspect, the company has consistently staged innovative, sophisticated and often daring productions such as Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, at Kilmainham Gaol, and Monteverdi's Orfeo which have proved accessible and popular.

To date, it has toured more than 70 productions and has also celebrated the operatic repertoire of Handel with exciting results, including productions of Ariodante, Orlando, Xerxes and Alcina.

In addition to its artistic achievements, Opera Theatre Company, a small and independent registered charity, has proved a defiant survivor. At the height of the recession in 2011, tentative plans were voiced about the forming of Irish National Opera.

These failed to materialise, although Opera Ireland was closed down to facilitate the proposed new company. Meanwhile, Opera Theatre Company continued.

This new production of La bohème is directed by Ben Barnes, one of the co-founders, whose previous work with the OTC includes that magnificently theatrical production of Orfeo in 2012 which balanced lyricism with menace and inspired choreography.

He has pushed La bohème forward in time from Paris in 1830 to exactly a century later, 1930 and no further.

More street-wise Mimi

Máire Flavin, having moved up from mezzo-soprano, is making her soprano debut as a somewhat more street-wise Mimi than usual. “I don’t see her as an innocent, not at all,” says Flavin.

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) was an instinctive showman with a feel for a good story. La bohème premiered in Turin in 1896 and was conducted by a young Arturo Toscanini (1847-1957).

It was not an immediate critical success, but the public loved it.

In common with Mozart, Puccini possessed a complete vision: not only did he compose the music, he included the stage directions.

His work is very specific and he placed importance on movement and gesture.

La bohème resonates with rich music and a range of emotion, from playful joy to grief.

In 1946, 50 years after its Turin premiere Toscanini, then aged 79, made a piece of history by then conducting the first recording – the only original Puccini conductor to do so.

Máire Flavin is Mimi. Argentine tenor Pablo Bemsch sings Rodolfo; Sinead Campbell-Wallace is Musetta, with baritone Charles Rice taking the role of her beleaguered lover, Marcello. Andrew Greenwood conducts, while the set design is by the gifted, multi-awarding wining Joe Vanek.

La bohème opens in Dublin tomorrow, Friday May 13th at the O’Reilly Theatre, with a second performance on Sunday, May 15th.

The production then goes on tour to Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick, May 17th; the National Opera House Wexford, May 19th; An Glór, Ennis, Co Clare, May 22nd; An Grianan, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, May 25th; Solstice Arts, Navan, Co Meath, May 27th; Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny, May 30th; Town Hall Theatre, Galway, June 1st; and concludes at the Hawks Well Theatre, Sligo, June 3rd.

Eileen Battersby

Eileen Battersby

The late Eileen Battersby was the former literary correspondent of The Irish Times