Northern Ireland Opera will return to live opera with a new version of Puccini’s classic tragedy La bohème (The Bohemians, 1896), the national opera company has revealed.
This bold new interpretation of one of the most beloved and timeless masterpieces in the operatic canon will be brought to life inside the iconic Carlisle Memorial Church in Belfast across four evenings. A historic focal point in the city, this beautifully decayed church provides the perfect atmospheric backdrop to a story about a group of bohemians who are all trying to find their way in life and love.
It marks Cameron Menzies’s first production in front of live audiences since he joined Northern Ireland Opera as artistic director midway through the pandemic in February 2021.
“The themes of youthful hope, the pursuit of connection, love and the very real and human desire for relationships, paired with some of the most stunning composition in the history of opera, seems to be what our audiences need right now both in terms of relevance and potency,” Menzies commented.
“We are so fortunate to be able to create this new socially distanced production inside a building that has had a rather varied and bohemian existence of its own. I already feel that the power of the building and how it stands in its own slightly broken and faded beauty is the absolute perfect grasp to safely and lovingly hold this opera.”
Acclaimed US tenor Noah Stewart will perform the role of Rodolfo. Alongside him is British soprano Gemma Summerfield making her debut in the role as Mimi. Northern Irish soprano Emma Morwood sings the role of Musetta; she is paired with Ukrainian baritone Yuriy Yurchuk’s Marcello.
La bohème is conducted by Rebecca Lang, a versatile cross-over artist with accolades in both opera and musical theatre. “I love bringing theatre to audiences in unexpected spaces – it gives us all the opportunity to experience pieces in ways other than those which we anticipate or expect,” she said. “La bohème is the perfect choice for us as artists to be part of the collective emerging from the rubble we have all had to endure.”
Built in 1875, Carlisle Memorial Church is situated at the heart of Belfast, in an area of high political tension during the Troubles. Closed for worship since 1980 and in a parlous derelict condition, it was recognised in 2015 by the World Monument Fund and brought back to use as a venue for the local community, bringing arts and culture to some of the most deprived wards of Northern Ireland.
La bohème will be performed in front of socially distanced audiences across four nights: 18, 20, 23 and 25 September; shows start at 8pm on each night. Tickets cost £49.50 and are available from TicketSource.
This new production forms part of a surprising and varied launch programme selected by Menzies for the 2021-22 season, which “will lead Northern Ireland Opera into an exciting new era under his artistic direction,” the company said in a statement. The Australian director’s award-winning career spans the worlds of opera, theatre, music theatre, cabaret and film-making.
Menzies added: “This production gives us the opportunity to work with and employ a vast array of truly exceptional talents in all areas of discipline, including 32 freelance instrumentalists in our La Bohème Orchestra, 16 chorus singers, numerous small local businesses and a large number of freelance artists.
“It will also be the first for Northern Ireland Opera to integrate the new creative roles from the NI Opera Studio into a main stage work, giving our studio members training experience within real situations.”
Noah Stewart, Gemma Summerfield, Emma Morwood and Yuriy Yurchukhave been cast as the beloved bohemians in Northern Ireland Opera’s new production of La bohème to be staged in Carlisle Memorial Church, Belfast, this September.