This production of La bohème, premiered at the
Arts Centre, Melbourne on 12 April 2011 and later moved to the
Sydney Opera House, where it was filmed. It can lay claim to
being one of the most luxurious ever of this opera, at least
when it comes to the Momus scene: colourful, crowded, cumulative,
chaotic, coruscating, contrastive and comic. It is a feast for
the eye and one might easily believe that all the visual splendour
would outdo the central plot - but it doesn’t. The other
acts are less flamboyant but gorgeous even so. The action has
been transported from Paris to Berlin and the time is the early
1930s. Musetta looks like a mix of Mae West and Marlene Dietrich.
She is an engaging actress and so are the rest of the cast.
Visually and theatrically this production is a winner.
Musically there are swings and roundabouts. Taiwanese conductor
Shao-Chin Lü, one of the leading opera conductors for more
than fifteen years, opts for fastish tempos throughout, which
I greatly prefer compared to certain maestros who drag and over-sentimentalizes
a score where there is so much sentiment anyway. Thomas Beecham’s
legendary EMI recording is hard to beat for the exquisitely
chiselled phrases at what he states were Puccini’s preferred
tempos. He has singers who can manage long unbroken phrases
without running out of breath. The chorus is great in the stunning
second act and the orchestra is in fine fettle. Concerning some
of the solo singing I must report misgivings. Schaunard is rusty
and Colline fairly mediocre but neither role is that important.
Benoit, the landlord in act I is a good comedian and the other
buffo part, Alcindoro in act II, does well with what little
he has to sing.
Of the four central characters José Carbó’s
Marcello is outstanding. He has stage presence, acts very naturally
and sings with great character. His Musetta, Taryn Fiebig, who
is also a cellist, has the same charisma and her brilliant singing
is a further asset. The South Korean Ji-Min Park as Rodolfo
at first seemed too lyrical, too weak, but he has a beautiful
voice, He is too intelligent to press it beyond its natural
limits and the high C in Che gelida manina is wonderfully
assured. He is also a very expressive actor with a face that
reveals all his feelings. What a Mimi he has in Chicago-born
Takesha Meshé Kizart! Their first meeting is truly touching
and they act so well together throughout. She has the same expressive
face. Rarely have I seen such youthful and sensitive singers
as this couple. Ms Kizart’s singing is one of the glories
of this performance and in the third act, in many ways the emotional
summit of the opera, she is magical.
Readers who, like me, tend to prefer sound recordings to DVDs
will have noticed that this production is being issued simultaneously
in DVD and CD versions. In this particular case, though, I would
recommend even the most stubborn members of the anti-DVD wing
to choose the DVD. The magnificent sets, the extraordinarily
good acting and interplay between the singers and sense of watching
true feelings, not just theatre, is worth the extra outlay.
You will probably need a sizable pile of hankies ... but don’t
let that deter you from watching it.
see also review of Blu-ray release by Rob
Masterwork Index: La Bohème