Nine months after opening, Harpa, Reykjavik’s stunning new waterfront concert hall, is hosting the national opera company’s second production in its new home. Both Icelandic Opera and Harpa have suffered from the country’s notorious financial problems: the government stepped in when the hall’s private backers went bankrupt; plans for a new dedicated opera house had to be abandoned.
There’s a hint of compromise in this La bohème, then, staged in Eldborg, the largest of Harpa’s four halls. The state-of-the-art 1,600-seat auditorium was designed for concerts, and its 72ft-wide stage has no curtain, no proscenium, nor any of the traditional stage machinery.
But the British pair of Will Bowen (designer) and Jamie Hayes (director) makes a virtue out of necessity. Costumed characters mill about beforehand in Harpa’s magnificent foyers, the cast enter and exit unexpectedly down the aisles, and Marcello and Musetta have a flaming row on stage before the start.
The set features movable late-19th-century props against a set of sliding, semi-transparent panels that allow shadows to be projected from behind and grainy film from in front. A recurring motif comes out of Marcello’s promotion from painter to early cinematographer, his footage of the blissful Rodolfo and Mimì replayed to moving effect over her death scene.