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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème, opera in 4 acts (1896)
Michael Fabiano, Rudolfo; Nicole Car, Mimi; Mariusz Kwiecień, Marcello; Simona Mihai, Musetta; Florian Sempey, Schaunard; Luca Tittoto, Coline; Jeremy White, Benoît
Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra/Sir Antonio Pappano
rec. live, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 11 September 2017
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo/Surround 5.1; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; All Regions; Subtitles in English, French, German, Korean, Japanese; notes and synopsis in English, French and German
Reviewed in surround.
OPUS ARTE OABD7248D Blu-ray [122 mins]

It is a considerable relief to be able to enthuse almost unreservedly about an opera production. As I noted at length in my recent review of Massanet's Cendrillon, opera is the presentation of a story through the proscenium arch, and directorial decisions sometimes, too often, place a further barrier between viewer and composer/librettist. In this performance of La Bohème, Richard Jones, the stage director, has taken close account of Puccini's as well as Giacosa and Illica's instructions. Thus Act 1 takes place in a garret with an imaginary but huge window over Paris; Act 2 outside in the Latin Quarter and then a wonderfully busy street café; Act 3 out by the customs house and Act 4 back in the garret. This means that nothing in either the scene or the action has to be further distorted to fit any alien conception. Just one thought occurred to me whilst viewing, that the moonlight in Act 1 was sufficiently bright to make the search for Mimi's key 'in the dark' even less likely to be necessary.

With no barriers from the staging we can focus entirely on the action and the music. In this cast and with this conductor, chorus and orchestra we have a team close to perfection. Pappano gives the score all the detailed attention it deserves without ever losing the big picture. I do not think I have heard so convincing an account since Karajan's monumental effort for Decca in 1972. In one respect it is even better than that. Pappano treats the intimate domestic details with as much care as the overarching tragedy. For Karajan the tragedy is always at the front. None of this excellence would matter if the singers were less than adequate. The present cast were not all known to me but every characterisation is magnificent and the actual voices lovely to hear. Nicole Car is as good a Mimi as one could wish for, equally convincing as a poor supplicant, a girl in love, and finally a victim of disease. Her death is heartbreaking, as Puccini intended. She is matched by a superb Rudolfo in Michael Fabiano, at first a carefree poet and ultimately a man broken by bereavement. One could list each participant for special mention because everyone is so good but I must pick just one more. Simona Mihai is a spicy and passionate Musetta with an entrancing stage presence.

All the recording technologies are at the highest level with excellent surround sound and beautifully clear pictures. The notes are, as usual, brief, but perfectly adequate. The bonus with the conductor talking about the opera is, as usual with Pappano, completely watchable and very enlightening. So, unusually, I am completely happy with this one and would place it near or at the top in a very crowded field.

Dave Billinge


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