Photo: Opera Australia

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La Bohéme is unquestionably one of the most popular operas of all time. The tragic story of the tempestuous love affair between the poet Rodolfo and the mesmerisingly frail Mimi has captured the hearts of opera-goers for generations.

Originally set in the bohemian quarter around the Sorbonne on Paris’ Left Bank during the 19thcentury, Opera Australia has modernised the production by transforming the action to 1968 during the time of student protests. The opening and closing scenes take place in a sparsely decorated, freezing garret.

The challenge of mounting an insular opera outdoors on Sydney Harbour is cleverly addressed by Designer Dan Potra who places the garret on an elevated platform at the centre of the stage. In the foreground a streetscape slopes upwards, suggesting that the garret was set in avant-garde Montmartre, kilometres away from the student uprisings at the Sorbonne.

Romanian soprano Iulia Maria Dan is enchanting in her Sydney debut as Mimi. The chemistry between Dan and Korean born tenor Ho-Yoon Chung is palpable. Australian soprano Julie Lea Goodwin steals the show as the sultry Musetta; her performance is made all the more steamy with Australian baritone Samuel Dundas playing her jealous lover Marcello.

Behind the set a massive screen comprised of 24 panels projects an image of the Eiffel Tower, historic photographs of the Parisian uprisings and other romantic (at times cliché) images. Add burning cars, fireworks on the Harbour and a machine blowing snowlike foam onto the stage and audience alike and the effect is nothing short of spectacular.

Until Apr 22. At Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquarie’s Point. $89-$348+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Reviewed by Lawrence Gibbons