Having seen the most recent revival
of Jonathan Miller’s production at the Coliseum, it is good to
find that it has been preserved in the DVD medium. Much of the
cast is the same – perhaps the most significant change is Alfie
Boe in the role of Rodolfo - Boe in fact reprises the role later
in the current run. Comments on the anonymity of the staging remain
- there is nothing concrete to link this to Paris. Yet seeing
it again acts as a reminder that the bleak opening to the third
act, a celebration of greys, works extremely well given the emotional
subject matter at that point. It is in the first two acts particularly
that the production comes up short, in the second because of overcrowding.
Boe’s voice is rather small and yet the timbre is pleasing in the middle register; up top it becomes rather more edgy. He is however constantly in the shadow of his Marcello, the excellent Roland Wood, both in vocal and in acting terms. The first scene of the opera, seen in the flat against a rather anonymous rooftop-scape, works because the conductor, Miguel Harth-Bedoya shapes it so intelligently. He underplays the orchestral underscoring of Benoit’s arrival, however. Boe and Roland Wood exchange well, and the four men provide a persuasive case of the bohemian life. Simon Butteriss is greatly comedic as the landlord Benoit - he looks remarkably like George of George and Mildred.
It is the Colline, though, Pauls Putninš, that carries the greatest stage presence.
Harth-Bedoya’s strength lies in projecting the long-range trajectory of scenes. He succeeds again in Act 2, where the long scene with Musetta in the Café Momus rises to a splendid and inevitable conclusion. The orchestra is well-drilled, too - more so than in the recent run at ENO under Stephen Lord. The detail in the final stages of the boys’ games in the final act, just prior to Musetta’s entrance, is most impressive.
Melody Moore sings Mimě. Her portrayal of a shy girl in the opera’s initial
phase is rather affecting; a pity Boe is rather rigid in comparison
(“Your tiny hand is frozen”). Moore’s answer to Boe’s aria (“I’m
always called Mimě”) is creamy-voiced and yet has a core of
fragile innocence running through it. Her high register is pure
and her pitching is well-placed. Her scenes with Marcello at
the onset of Act 3 are convincing and emotionally poignant;
again, she throws Boe into shadow, as her final death throes
of Act 4 are remarkably sustained against Boe’s rather more
studied, learned-by-rote responses.
Pauls Putninš is memorable as Colline. His voice is large, he portrays a most jovial personality and yet can bring poignancy to his role, too. His “Veccia zimarra” is one of the high points of the performance.
Close-up camera work avoids the feeling of an over-crowded stage that is the case in the opera house itself. The Charlie Chaplin Parpignol is a nice touch, while Hanan Alattar absolutely looks the part of a coquettish temptress, Musetta. Alattar excels vocally, too – I would like to see and hear more of her. The experienced Richard Angas is also firmly in character as Alcindoro. Overall this remains a mixed Bohčme. Worth preserving, to be sure, but it should by no means be anyone’s single version in their collection.
Documentation is minimal and disappointing. We are provided
with a single sheet which includes cast and synopsis, and that’s