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Giacomo Puccini: La bohème
19 Jan 2011

La Bohème at Covent Garden, 2009

The Royal Opera at Covent Garden has hit on a way to revitalize a vintage production — hire a fresh cast of virtually unknown singers.

Giacomo Puccini: La bohème

Rodolfo: Teodor Ilincai; Mimì: Hibla Gerzmava; Marcello: Gabriele Viviani; Musetta: Inna Dukach; Colline: Kostas Smoriginas; Schaunard: Jacques Imbrailo; Benoit: Jeremy White; Alcindoro: Donald Maxwell. Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra. Andris Nelsons, conductor. John Copley, stage director. Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, December 2009.

Opus Arte OABD7060D [Blu-Ray]

$39.99  Click to buy

John Copley’s very traditional staging of Puccini’s La Bohème debuted in 1974, and as Copley notes in a brief bonus interview feature, such tenor stars as Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras have dressed as Rodolfo on these sets. In the Blu-Ray picture, the crisp picture locates no obvious signs of age in the sets — at least, in physical deterioration. Whenever any stage action departs from the classic depiction of young love in Paris, there’s an air of a desperate effort to bring something fresh to a decades-old production. Thus, when Schaunard and Colline enter in act one, why are they accompanied by two silent women who help unload the groceries and then disappear? And why in act four does Marcello need a live nude model to inspire him as he sings of his former love, alongside Rodolfo?

Perhaps this old-style show needs star power, however, to make its greatest impact. This 2009 performance is pleasant enough, but none of the four key leads has anything particularly distinctive to offer, making the performance as whole rather forgettable. Certainly tenor Teodor Ilincai poses no threat to his “Three Tenor” predecessors. A baby-faced young man, his middle voice is pleasant but punchless, and the tight top dampens the the intended thrill of the high notes. Intonation is inconsistent, as well. As Mimi, Hilda Gerzmava possess more vocal security throughout her range. As an actress, however, she has little of either Mimi’s vulnerability. Gabriele Viviani’s Marcello captures the handsome, hulky side of the role physically, bu the generic nature of his instrument dulls the total effect. Inna Dukack struts as a Musetta should do in act two, squabbles as she should in act three, and softens appropriately in the tragic act four. Her big act two aria, however, feels mannered. The supporting cast politely refrains from stealing any scenes.

The truly interesting young star here can be found in the pit — conductor Andris Nelsons. He provides the precise rhythmic support that bounces along with the hi-jinks and keeps the romantic and tragic passages from turning maudlin. He gets his own brief interview bonus feature as well.

Memorable modern stagings of Bohème on DVD elude your reviewer’s memory. However, there are any number of options when it comes to traditional versions such as this one, and with more impressive signing from well-known names. Some people can never have enough of Puccini’s Parisian masterpiece, though, and this perfectly acceptable performance will undoubtedly please them.

Chris Mullins


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