Full house at Haddo for La Boheme

A scene from La Boheme at Haddo House Hall.
A scene from La Boheme at Haddo House Hall.

Haddo House Hall was packed at the weekend for the Choral and Operatic Society’s production of La Boheme.

Performances of Puccini’s opera on Friday and Saturday were sold out.

The production had some changes to previous years, in that the scenery was much pared down and the chorus involvement was less evident, but that did nothing to detract from the emotional impact of the show.

A welcome first for Haddo was the introduction of surtitles to help the audience follow the Italian libretto.

This helped particularly in the odd moments when the cut down orchestra still overwhelmed the singers - a perennial problem at Haddo, where there is no pit to deaden their sound.

A fine cast of professional soloists, joined by one or two HHCOS stalwarts, told the sad tale of the demise of the young seamstress Mimi (played by Natasha Day) with convincing confidence.

The three young male Parisian students (Douglas Nairn, Joseph Padfield and Julien Van Mellaerts) were convincing on stage and there were glimpses of some fine voices for the future.

HHCOS member Jerry Dennis played along with them well as the drunken landlord Benoit, and the intense and difficult lead role of Rodolfo was take by Italian tenor Gianluca Paganelli, who despite a beautiful voice and apt looks, seemed a little nervous and unsure at times, even dropping a prop on one occasion.

He came into his own however in Act three when his voice blended and soared beautifully with the other soloists.

Most convincing were the two female leads, Natasha Day and local girl Eleanor Dennis. Natasha had a fragility and beauty of tone that was deeply moving, soaring up to her top notes effortlessly and with style.

Eleanor, fresh from commitments with English National Opera and Scottish Opera, took total control of the music and staging as the feisty Musetta. Hers was the voice with the most to offer, covering the orchestra’s sound with ease.

Her sidekick, played by Blair Smith, showed good comic timing as he tried to keep up with her vocally and physically.

The chorus, directed by Alice Dennis and costumed by Angela Johnson, gave a spirited and confident account of the street scene in Act II.

Sporting costumes from the 1920s, they evidently enjoyed played working girls, vendors, maids and street sellers. Some young children from the Haddo Voices, playing street urchins, were particularly strong in their little scene with the toy seller (played by Martin Lomas).

The orchestra showed some fine playing, particularly from the strings, under the baton of Tim Dean who showed an understanding of both the musical style and the needs of the singers.

There were one or two blemishes and tuning issues from the wind section in an otherwise fine account.

The audience gave the performers a rousing reception and many of them were visibly moved at as they left the auditorium, which was a tribute to the hard work put in by all for this lovely little production.