Opera Film Review: La Boheme

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This film presentation by Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas of the Opéra National de Paris production of Puccini’s La Bohème was captured live from Opéra Bastille, Paris, on 12 Dec 2017. In four acts, the screening runs close to two and one half hours, which includes one short interval of 10 minutes It was sung in Italian with English subtitles.

Directed by Claus Guth, opening night apparently caused a furore with enthusiastic applause for the singers and orchestra, which was savagely contrasted by and boos and jeers for Guth.  The controversy all lies in Guth choosing to set the opera sometime in the future on a doomed spacecraft on which the ill-fated astronauts (Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard and Colline) reminisce of happier times past as they wait for their inevitable end.  Bold – brave even – but it succeeds!

This futuristic and desolate setting is light years from the bohemian Paris, which was the original milieu of the opera, and it works but only if you are perhaps already familiar with the story and have seen the opera before. La Bohème is one of Puccini’s best loved operas and is brimming over with beautiful arias and ensembles, and the orchestration is perhaps Puccini’s best.  It is therefore a brave director who decides to ‘update’ it!  It works because Guth has chosen to provide body doubles for some of the principal characters so that, for example, we see distressed astronaut Rodolfo’s imagination being played out in front of his eyes as his younger self from happier times is flirting with Mimi.  Despite the beautiful music and arias, La Bohème is perhaps an unsatisfying story because it is so episodic, and for this reason Guth’s choice to ‘relegate’ many scenes to the realm of recollection and reverie works well.

As Rodolfo, Atalla Ayan is superb. His soaring tenor voice rose easily above the Paris Opera Orchestra and evoked despair, happiness, smitten love and every other emotion that was needed.  His duet with Mimi showed him to be fine romantic actor.  We truly believed that he was deeply in love with her and his kiss was ever so tender.

The quartet of bohemian mates was completed by Artur Rucinski as Marcello, Alessio Arduini as Schaunard and ‘local’ favourite Roberto Tagliavini as Colline.  They all commanded their roles, and Rucinski was particular impressive, but baritone Arduini, in a smaller role, had much stage presence and was a total delight to watch.

Aida Garifullina sang a spirited Musetta and oozed seduction, but the highlight of the entire production was Australian Nicole Car in the pivotal role of Mimi.  Her strong soprano line was crystal clear, mellifluous and commanding.

Vocally, there are no weak links in this production.  It is a stellar cast.

Maestro Gustavo Dudamel is rapidly becoming a sought after conductor of opera. As he said in his interval interview – one of the bonuses of attending screenings! – he doesn’t seek to control the production, but rather he finds ways for the various elements to work better together (or words to that effect!). And it shows!  The musical impact was almost overwhelming.

This production is controversial, but it is definitely worth watching.

There is one more screening at Palace Nova Eastend on Wednesday 7 February, at 11.30am.

Check out the Palace Opera Ballet website here.

Reviewed by Kym Clayton

9.0 Controversial

Bold – brave even - but it succeeds!

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