Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Jonathan Miller's 2009 La Bohème for the English National Opera reunites him with the designer Isabella Bywater, and with sets based on documentary photography of 1930s Paris by Brassai and Kertész.
Miller has a reputation for updating operas: his 1982 Mafiosi-style Rigoletto for the ENO, set in 1950s New York, transposed a scene to an all-night diner taken straight from Edward Hopper.
Cast & Crew
English National Opera
Music GIACOMO PUCCINI
Libretto GIACOSA & ILLICA
English translation by AMANDA HOLDEN
Designer ISABELLA BYWATER
Stage Lighting JEAN KALMAN
Running Time: 120 minutes
Review of DVD version:
Jonathan Miller’s production for the London Coliseum places the action of
La bohème in Paris of the 1920s. This was a period when painters, authors and composers flocked to the French capital. Murger’s artists were hardly in the same league as the great names that roamed the streets or tippled wine in the bars, but they are well depicted in the libretto and Miller has managed - with the assistance of good achievements from the cast - to give the characters personalities. Simon Butteriss’s Benoit in the first act is a masterly portrait and Pauls Putnins’ Colline becomes something much more than the rather anonymous philosopher who normally is remembered for his short coat aria in the last act.
The sets are realistic, almost naturalistically detailed. The artists’ attic, in the first and last acts, is up high with a visible staircase leading up to the apartment, so the audience can see the characters well in advance before they actually enter the flat. Café Momus is packed with visitors, all of them well chiselled out individuals while the wintry third act is subdued in colours, giving an impression of a 1920s movie. It is cold, and Mimi stamps her feet and shivers while she waits for Marcello to come out. It is also terribly cold in the first act, Rodolfo wrapped up in a blanket while Marcello wears jersey gloves to be able to work with his lithograph. Since muffs were out of fashion Musetta gets Mimi a pair of gloves instead in the last act. This is just one example of clever adjustment. It is an uncommonly vivid production that never slackens for a moment.
The singing also by and large is worthy of the production. Roland Wood’s Marcello is rather shaky but Alfie Boe has an attractive voice - and he is a lively actor - though the tone isn’t very Italianate. Latvian Pauls Putnins lends warmth to the coat aria and Hanan Alattar’s charismatic Musetta stole the show completely at Café Momus. Her voice is rather fuller than many lyric sopranos in this role but it suits her perfectly.
The real star of the performance is however Melody Moore as Mimi. In sharp contrast to Ms Alattar’s bold and outgoing Musetta she is mild and vulnerable, perfectly suited to the role of the little seamstress. Her voice, a lirico-spinto of rare beauty with power in reserve for the big utterances and sensitive to the soft nuances as well, should, if there is any justice in this world, take her to the top of the trade.
There is room for many different approaches to this immortal opera and Jonathan Miller’s view is fully valid though hardly ground-breaking. I found it wholly attractive and the television director Robin Lough manages to convey a sense of being there at the Coliseum. For this and for the singing of the two sopranos this is a set that is worth owning.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini
Roland Wood (Baritone),
Alfie Boe (Tenor),
Hanan Alattar (Soprano),
Paul Putnins (Bass),
Melody Moore (Soprano)
English National Opera Orchestra
Written: 1896; Italy
Notes: Sung in English
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