This release is a delight, a relay from Covent
Garden which was, as far as I’m aware, broadcast live into cinemas
last December. It features their current production which has
been doing the rounds since the early 1970s, here revived by the
original director himself. Copley’s production is traditional
and beautiful, its chief concern being to tell the story directly.
In December 2009 some criticised it for looking a little worn
and shabby. Don’t believe a word of it! In the close-up of the
screen it looks neat, fresh and as good as new, every piece of
furniture and inch of set design serving the purpose of the drama
nicely. The garret is well designed on two levels so that the
most intimate action takes place closest to the audience, away
from the busyness of the entries and exits. The Barrière d’Enfer
looks beautiful with its warm looking tavern and gently falling
snow. The Cafe Momus is uncrowded and easy on the eye, though
the action in the street outside seems rather cramped. Costumes
and sets place us firmly in Paris in the 1830s and there is nothing
to detract from the basic narrative. Some might find this unimaginative,
but there is a lot to be said for telling a story well and this
is certainly one production (or, by extension, DVD) to which I
would happily take a newcomer to opera.
The cast of singers are all young up-and-comings, but they are all the better for that. Bohème
is all about the energy of youth and the excitement of young love, and this cast all look the part as well as sounding great. Hibla Gerzmava is a lovely Mimi, lyrical and vulnerable with a very beautiful voice: she is at her best during the parting duet of Act 3. Teodor Illincai is a very fine Rodolfo with a great ring to his voice and lots of youthful ardour. Strangely, though, Che gelida manina
is probably the weakest point of his performance as he attacks from below the note – a shame as the top of his voice is thrilling. Inna Dukach is a characterful Musetta, her bright, slightly sharp soprano contrasting well with Gerzmava’s. Viviani is a warm, likeable Marcello, powerful in Acts 2 and 3 and very moving in the duet at the start of Act 4. Kostas Smorginias is of rather pale voice until the Raincoat aria which he sings with strength, and Jacques Imbrailo’s Schaunard is lovely of presence and voice. Benoit and Alcindoro are acted well by two stalwarts who love every minute of it.
Like his cast, conductor Andris Nelsons brings youth, vigour and energy to this ever-young score. The pulse of the first Act is infectious and the great crashes that begin and end Act 3 are razor-sharp. The orchestra play this most familiar of scores as if it were the only performance they would ever give, enthusiasm and virtuosity coming through in every bar. They are helped in this by production values of the highest order: the DTS sound, in particular, is outstandingly clear and well-separated without drawing attention to itself. The picture is also crystal-clear and the camera-work is effective and entirely non-intrusive.
Opus Arte’s usual high standards are maintained in the presentation and title menus, and there are brief interviews with Nelsons and Copley about the production. There are many Bohème
s available on DVD, but this one is as recommendable as any, and it feels good to be able to say this about such a home-grown product. Covent Garden have kept this production for so long because it works so well, and I think that anyone with this DVD in their collection would feel the same way.