S&H Opera Review

Puccini La Bohème Glyndebourne Touring Company/Louis Langrée at Glyndebourne Opera House, 15 October 00 (TW)

The moment that the Glyndebourne Opera Festival closes at the end of August, another rehearsal period starts. The Glyndebourne Touring Company takes over and prepares its autumn and winter season. This year, two entirely new productions, Puccini´s La bohème and the English premiere of The Last Supper by Harrison Birtwistle are on offer, together with a revival of this year´s Festival production of Mozart´s Don Giovanni.

Driving down from London to the Sussex Downs to see La bohème on October 15 turned out to be a nightmare, trying to avoid flooded towns and roads but being held up in endless accident related queues. Never mind as long as one is rewarded with musical excellence of such indeed unexpected calibre. GTO´s French Music Director Louis Langrée conducted - and I sincerely hope that General Director Nicholas Snowman, and everybody in Glyndebourne, are proud of such an outstanding musician. May he be in charge for many years to come.

Langrée's deep commitment, his phrasing, his instinct for the right balance, his musical understanding and clarity, his ear for details without ever loosing the overall control, his inspiring temperament and, most important of all, his selfless and caring love for the music and its dramatic impact, as well as for the musicians be they in the pit or on stage, are credentials very few conductors have nowadays.

He led a superb international cast of young and very promising voices, among them the 28 years old Italian Simona Todaro, a breathtaking Mimi, the English tenor Alfred Boe , whose timbre and looks made him an ideal Rodolfo, and whose Nanki-Poo in this years Mikado production at the Grange Park Opera had already carried me away, as well as the powerful Italian baritone Luca Grassi, a convincing Marcello. Only Claron McFadden disappointed; she had been miscast as Musetta; her edgy voice possessed none of the necessary Puccini flavour and felt uncomfortable.

The production by David McVicar with sets by Michael Vale and costume designs by Mikki Engelsbel (all of whom made their Glyndebourne debut) settled for a contemporary interpretation in today´s London. But far too many provincial gimmicks killed the necessary atmosphere. No curtain at the beginning, and open scene changes, did not make any sense. Rodolfo´s and Marcello´s attic was placed on a tiny revolving stage in the centre, covered by an obscure iron bridge similar to those at small railway stations. In the first scene, everybody had been visibly seated back stage awaiting their entrance - what a rubbish. There was more nonsense to come and, of course, everybody smoked like hell. But for once one could easily close the eyes and still enjoy every minute, so why care?

Any producers and designers, who try to update an opera and place the action outside the composer´s intention, have to be geniuses with an extraordinary sensitivity. They have to forget their own little ego, have to listen to the music, have to be faithful and extremely honest.

It can work, even with La bohéme; in this case, it went wrong - boring, absurd and depriving the opera of its necessary breathing space.

After the usual opening season at Glyndebourne(October 10-28), the company travels to Woking, Norwich, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Oxford and Stoke-on-Trent. It gives a wide audience all over England not only the chance to experience two productions, which later will enter the Festival repertoire (La bohème in 2003 and The Last Supper in 2001), but the opera lover can also come to one´s own judgment about Don Giovanni, the most controversial production presented during the Festival this year. Details on www.glyndebourne.com

Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt

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