Opera Hong Kong’s La bohème was originally scheduled for last May, but was bumped off the schedule by the tail-end of a Covid surge. The delayed production was well worth waiting for.
It can be hard to keep a work as well-known as La bohème fresh, but a combination of innovative staging (with the exception of the boisterous Café Momus scene along a vibrantly recognizable waterfront, the evocative sets are simple, elegant and austere, suggesting rather than emphasizing Hong Kong) and striking ensemble performances from the relatively young casts create evenings of musical theatre that are moving, appealing, funny and very real.
Hong Kong soprano Louise Kwong sings Mimì, a role that had been her debut at the Opera di Roma in 2018. It would be hard to think of any singer better suited for this Hong Kong-set production: her voice is both controlled and expressive and she glides effortless into the role. Together with the charismatic Chinese tenor Kang Wang as Rodolfo, returning only a few months after his debut in La traviata, they make a fresh, attractive and completely credible couple.
This level of artistry is by now expected from Kwong; the surprise was the astoundingly assured big-stage debut of Anna Zhang as party-girl Musetta, who has both vocal talent and stage presence by the bucketload. The Chinese contingent among the leads was rounded out baritone Yunpeng Wang: his is the rare Marcello that gives Roldolfo a run for his money as protagonist in appeal, presence and lyricism.
Kwong alternates in this run with Italian soprano Francesco Dotto, an internationally accomplished Mimì; the stunning Russian soprano Nino Solodovnikva provided, in her torturing of her Chinese sugar daddy (a very funny Freddie Tong as Alcindoro), a scene of very contemporary satire. La bohème contains moments of high comedy, as funny as any opera buffa, which add poignancy to the tragedy. These are played to the full: Edmund Kwan is a somewhat suaver foil to Anna Zhang’s Musetta, Jim Price plays a commedia dell’arte version of the landlord Benoît and the bohemians duel with a baguette and dried fish (rather than the more traditional fire-irons).
The other bohemians include Michael Lam in rotation as Marcello, Paolo Ciavarelli and Lam Kwok Ho as Schaunard, Vladimir Sazdovski as Colline, with Freddie Tong taking up the role when he isn’t singing Alindoro. Kang Wang, in what must a feat of considerable endurance, sings all four performances as Rodolfo. Wesley Lam is the toy-seller (here decked out as Santa Claus) Parpignol.
The Opera Hong Kong Orchestra was led by Giancarlo Gianola.