LOVE, poverty and warmongering rulers are the big themes given voice over two nights in these English Touring Opera productions.
The first, La Boheme, features a brilliantly inventive impressionistic set which literally mirrors the story in a superb revival of Puccini's classic tale of tragic romance.
From the opening scene in a tiny Parisien garret where four struggling artists playfully keep their spirits up to stay warm, to the last where poor young flower seller Mimi lies on her death bed, director Christopher Moon-Little –following in the footsteps of James Conway’s acclaimed production – ensures that the entire cast never puts a note wrong.
Conductor Dionysis Grammenos leads the orchestra with style.
Luciano Botelho as Rodolfo and Francesca Chiejina (Mimi) are touchingly tender in their first candlelit meeting, their voices gloriously complementing each other in the imagined darkness.
They sing their dreams in a cleverly positioned basket of a balloon to great effect.
Botelho’s lovely voice contrasts with Chiejina's soaring vocals to make for moving duets, especially as the end draws near.
The set design by Florence de Mare and Neil Irish, comprising a huge portable glass panel, stylishly shifts from artist's easel to cafe bar.
The rest of a fine cast, Themba Mvula as Shaunard, Michel de Souza as Marcello, Trevor Elliot Bowes as Colline, sing wonderfully well, as does and Jenny Stafford is a wonderfully independent Musetta, a fitting soulmate for Mimi and champion for downtrodden women.
Conway’s production of The Golden Cockerel was dedicated to the people of Ukraine and Russian people protesting for peace.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s satirical last opera draws on illusion and fairytale, providing a timely assault on autocratic rulers and imperialism.
It was written after the composer's dismissal from the St Petersburg Conservatory for supporting student protests during the 1905 revolution with the Tsar’s Russia embroiled in a disastrous war with Japan.
The paranoid King Dodon, weighed down by imagined enemies, cares nothing for the drudgery of ordinary people's lives and reflects the horrors of war today.
Grant Doyle is in fine voice as Dodon, who runs the country from his bedroom and is literally spoon fed by his former nanny (Amy J Payne), who also seems to provide other services.
The Cockerel ( beautifully sung by Alys Mererid Roberts) - given to him by the mysterious magician - keeps watch through a telescope and shouts warnings from a watchtower.
Edward Hawkins puts in a great comic turn as the hapless - and hopeless - General Polkan.
Darkly funny, with slapstick thrown in, Robert Lewis steals the show as the Astrologer alongside Paula Sides, a tremendous force of nature as the Queen of Shemakha, fittingly turning into Rasputin and the Empress Alexandra at the end.