Large and enthusiastic audiences at the Playhouse last weekend enjoyed three performances of an excellent production of one of the great staples of the repertoire, Puccini’s La bohème, from the new(ish) Oxford Opera Company.

This commendable enterprise aims to bring us the stars, or at least the rising stars, of the international stage, while creating opportunities for local schoolchildren and students to work alongside them.

Building on its success with another Puccini favourite Tosca in 2018 and last year’s acclaimed production – just for one night – of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, this mightily impressive outfit delivered a polished, perceptive and pitch-perfect production.

Powered along by Oxford Chamber Orchestra, under conductor Neil Farrow, the evening of tears and not a little laughter was a credit to the company’s founder and artistic director, the bass-baritone Stuart Pendred, and the fine team he has gathered around him.

Pendred shone vocally, and as a gifted actor, in the show’s two comic cameo roles. First, we saw him as the Bohemians’ elderly landlord Benoît, who is ragged into revealing details of his alleged womanising and then treated with faux outrage by the lads on account of it, as a convenient excuse for throwing him out without his rent. Shortly after, he was Alcindoro, the equally put-upon banker and general dogsbody to the flighty Musetta.

This self-possessed minx was splendidly presented by Davidona Pittock, with her famously vampish trademark aria ‘Quando me’n vo’, proving a highlight of the show, as it usually is.

For once in this production, which is far from being always the case, the quartet of likely lads in joint occupation of the freezing Parisian garret were all visibly young enough to be tyros in the various trades they represent. This lent an appropriate juvenile larkiness to their antics together, and an engaging naivety to their involvement – well, two of them at least – in affairs of the heart .

The poet Rodolfo was memorably presented by the star-to-be (if not already) Sam Furness. a considerable ‘catch’ for this production, as was the New Zealand-born Samoan soprano Marlena Devoe as Mimi.

Their peerless Act I arias of introduction, and the great love duet that follows, were flawlessly and affectingly delivered. A winning extra dimension to the production, under director Paul Carr, arose from the conceit of showing us the opera as if in preparation for the filming of it, with the singers falling for each other as they rehearsed, scores in hand.

Huw Montague Rendall as the painter Marcello (on-off lover of Musetta), fellow baritone Dominic Bowe as musician Shaunard and bass Samuel Lom as the philosopher Colline showed a winning rapport each for the others, while seizing their time in the spotlight when it was offered. This included, in the case of the last, his plangent tribute to his departing overcoat amid the surrounding gloom of Mimi’s death. 4/5