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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème (1894-95) - Opera in Four Acts
Rodolpho - David Hobson
Mimi - Cheryl Barker
Marcello - Roger Lemke
Musetta - Christine Douglas
Colline - Gary Rowley
Schaunard - David Lemke
Benoit - Graeme Ewer
Parpignol - Jin Tea Kim
Opera Australia Chorus prepared by Richard Gill
Opera Australia Ballet and Orchestra/Julian Smith
Recorded in the Sydney Opera House
Originally produced for Television by Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Opera Australia 1993
Photography ã Don Mcmurdo / Kiren Chang
Production Director Baz Luhrmann
DVD Aspect Ratio 4:3
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100954 [113 minutes]


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La Bohème is one of the first operas with which I fell in love when in my early teens and more years ago than I care to remember. I still cherish the Callas / Di Stefano performance now on CD, which so enthralled me at that time.

Unlike much of the music from those days, the operas of Puccini delight me now as much as then despite the passage of time, not least "Bohème".

I first encountered this performance when it was televised in the UK during the early nineties, and I remember being greatly impressed by it. Fortunately a friend with more foresight had made a video recording and we subsequently watched it many times, always with great pleasure. When the commercial video became available I hastened to buy a copy but was greatly disappointed by the absence of subtitles.

About two years ago it was released on DVD (with subtitles) but only in NTSC format with the USA Regional Coding which happily my player could handle. It is only now that a PAL version coded for the UK has been released. Strange indeed are the ways of the music distribution industry.

From the foregoing it must be clear that this is a performance which I rate very highly although I recall the Gramophone being somewhat lukewarm in their reception of the original release.

So, why my enthusiasm? The answers are fairly straightforward.

Primarily the performance of the music itself. Regrettably many contemporary productions seem to overlook that opera should be above all a musical experience. It should not in my opinion be hijacked for use as a vehicle for self-aggrandisement by artistic directors, set designers et al, seeking to impress the public with their unique, and often bizarre vision of how a work should be performed.

In this case however, the Production Director Baz Luhrmann, although a "big name", succeeds completely in his role because he achieves a production in which the many diverse elements such as costumes, lighting etc all meld to support as well as enhance the harmony and pleasure of the whole. While the staging is relatively "modern" with moveable sets, any changes during the action are done discreetly with a minimum of fuss, and for me facilitated rather than distracted from the performance.

Despite this major achievement, the stars of the show remain: Puccini, the singers, the conductor and the orchestra, which is as it should be. The libretto is slightly and sensitively updated to match current parlance. Picture and sound quality are excellent, although a widescreen format would doubtless have been welcomed by some purchasers.

The singers were all previously unknown to me. They are young, and the quartet of lovers are all sufficiently attractive to suit their roles which makes a welcome contribution to the credibility of the events they portray … yes I know, if you want credibility an opera house is the last place to look for it, but you know what I mean.

Apart from being attractive to behold, they and all their colleagues sing and act extremely well, performing with subtlety and sensitivity. The pacing of the music conducted by Julian Smith seemed to me to be spot on.

Cheryl Barker’s "Mi chiamano Mimi" is simply one of the most enjoyable I have heard, and David Hobson, her Rodolfo, has a very distinctive timbre which I found truly thrilling at times. The other principals, Roger Lemke, Gary Rowley, David Lemke, and Christine Douglas all contributed similarly. These are artists whom I would dearly love to hear in other roles, and I was intrigued to see Graeme Ewer repeating his admirable Benoit at Glyndebourne in a later televised production.

Credit too should be given to this live Australian audience who are commendably unobtrusive apart from some very slight but entirely understandable premature applause at the end of the acts.

Of course no production can be perfect. The set in Act 3 is very stark but, as it reflects the desolation of the events taking place therein, does not distract one’s attention from the drama or the music.

In conclusion therefore, despite the lack of "superstar names" among the performers my advice would be: if you are seeking a first class version of this work your search is over, and if you already have a recording then this will probably surpass it, so why not duplicate.

Enjoy.

David Dyer

-

 



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