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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Boheme, Opera in four acts (1896)
Rodolfo: Giorgio Berrugi (tenor)
Mimi: Irina Lungu (soprano)
Marcello: Massimo Cavalletti (baritone)
Musetta: Kelebogile Besong (soprano)
Schaunard: Benjamin Cho (baritone)
Colline: Gabriele Sagona (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Regio, Turin/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. live, 12 September, 2016 at the 120th anniversary of the premiere at the theatre
Stage director, Àlex Ollé, Set designer, Alfons Flores, Costume designer, Lluc Castells, Lighting designer, Urs Schönebaum, Video Director, Tiziano Mancini
Picture format: NTSC 16:9. Filmed in HD and Mastered from an HD source. Sound formats: PCM Stereo. DTS 5.1
Booklet notes in English, German and French
Subtitles in Italian (original language) English, German, French, Spanish, Korean and Japanese
C MAJOR 742608 DVD [112 mins]

Having recently reviewed a very modernist concept production of Faust from this venue and under this conductor (see review), I wondered what to expect. A little flutter of hope struck me as I noted the performance was given to celebrate the one hundred and twentieth anniversary of the premiere of Puccini’s La Boheme at the Teatro Regio Turin, on February 1st 1896. The young Arturo Toscanini conducted it. I could not imagine the great Italian maestro, even in his younger days, tolerating any of the current vogue of Regietheater or producer concept productions such as that Faust, especially when he, as well as the composer and his librettists, knew the work was based on Henri Murger’s Scènes de la vie de bohème, written between 1847 and 1849 and set a dozen or so years earlier. However, one hundred and twenty years on, opera has become a art form of many faces, not all connected with what the composer might recognize!

In view of the relationship of the production with the history of the theatre, I had a momentary thought that it might just have copied that original setting, much as the Mariinsky under Gergiev did, when presenting the original version of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino in 1998 (see review) at the theatre where the opera had been premiered. Unlike that occasion, this production follows another vogue, that of updating to modern times. It is set in present day Paris slums, constituted of lines of tower block tenements, each seemingly comprised of small apartments with railings and often air conditioners hanging from windows. This frequently means a disparity between what is sung and what we see. After all, laptops are a recent accouterment of the young, even impecunious ones and the necessary electricity replaces candles, despite the libretto. I nit pick a little and perhaps should be grateful that Ollé's production is not so way out that Puccini’s story is unbelievable.

All the principles act their parts well to create a meaningful narrative that keeps, as much as modernisation allows, our minds on the original story and its tear-jerking tragic end. While Mimì may not expire from consumption the big C comes into mind and sight as the cause of her tragic slow decline. The great opening act, with Rodolfo finding Mimì’s hand frozen and warming her heart with his ardour, is particularly well sung and vocally nuanced by Giorgio Berrugi's tasteful and elegant singing as Rodolfo (CH. 8) whilst Mimi’s response, and their subsequent duet, indicates Irina Lungu to be a lyric soprano of some substance and a name to look out for (CHS.9-11). Massimo Cavalletti sings and acts well as Marcello, dealing with Musetta’s volatile temperament well alongside his compassion for Mimì, who turns to him in her hour of desperate need (CH.20). As the temperamental temptress Musetta, South African soprano Kelebogile Besong acts the part to near perfection and accommodates the wide-ranging vocal demand well. Her portrayal in the Cafè Momus scene is outstanding (CHs.15-17), while she portrays the role’s caring side in act four with poignancy. As to the other inhabitants of the grotty apartment, Gabriele Sagona says farewell to his overcoat with poignant tone (CH.28) albeit lacking some vocal sonority. Benjamin Cho as Schaunard is adequate as is Mateo Peronne in both his roles.

Gianandrea Noseda conducts with his usual distinction in this, his debut in the opera, drawing vibrant, full-bodied tone from his charges. In time he will bring more emotion to Puccini’s tear-jerking musical interpretation of Murger’s story, particularly if he has a more sympathetic staging with which to frame his skills.

Robert J. Farr



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