So, summer has finally hit Manchester. Sitting outside Lime at The Lowry last night, sipping a glass of wine and demolishing a basket of bread, one could almost have been in Barcelona rather than Salford, with the sun beating down and a general air of bonhomie pervading.
All the greater testimony, then, to the skill of Opera North, who last night began the first of a four night run of Puccini's splendid La Bohème at The Lowry Theatre. Within minutes, were were transported to Christmas Eve in Paris' poor Latin Quarter, and an attic apartment so cold that its occupants are forced to burn pages of a playscript in order to keep warm - no mean feat when at least half the audience are in sandals and sundresses. Into this apartment wanders beautiful Mimi, the lovely seamstress who lives next door and whose candle has blown out on the stairs (I plan to use this cunning ruse myself at some point); equally penniless writer Rodolfo lights it, hides her key (perhaps don't try this one - this would make me cross rather than make me move in) and a great love affair is born.
The remaining three acts chart their struggles with the usual relationship woes (no money, quarrelling, flirting with other people, jealousy etc etc), with Mimi and Rodolfo's relationship mirrored by that of Marcello and Musetta (he is a poverty-stricken artist; she is a gloriously vampish, leopardprint-wearing Amazonian goddess on whom I plan to model myself in future) - it seems that the course of true love can never run smoothly in this particularly Bohemian area of Paris. I won't spoil the ending, but true love does eventually prevail in a way that only the very hardest of hearts could fail to find romantic.
This being Opera North, the staging is witty and inventive and the cast uniformly young, sexy and talented - although I do feel that the central pairing of Rodolfo and Mimi are slightly upstaged by the ridiculously charismatic and gorgeous Duncan Rock and Sky Ingram as Marcello and Musetta. Phyllida Lloyd's direction is slick and seamless, and the orchestra as flawless and powerful as one would expect from an outfit as professional as Opera North. La Bohème is on at The Lowry until Saturday 17th May - I highly recommend you get your overcoat back out the cupboard, find your discarded gloves and go and experience a Parisian winter with this beautiful young cast.