Tuesday, November 15, 2011

'La Bohème' by Giacomo Puccini

15 November 2011

We were at Milton Keynes Theatre last Friday to see the Glyndebourne on Tour production of La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini. This was the first Puccini opera I had seen and the music was wonderful – sumptuous, romantic, beautiful and, yes, sentimental – but none the worse for it. This revival of the 2000 Glyndebourne on Tour production, directed by David McVicar, is set in a grittily contemporary Paris, with an uncompromisingly urban set designed by Michael Vale. The grotty flat in which the four young men live looked strangely familiar – and when they are visited by their landlord in search of his rent I realised that we were watching an episode of ‘The Young Ones’, albeit with better singing! Writing in the programme, Nicholas Payne, suggested that ‘La Bohème’ is the perfect length. He says that “Puccini, and his librettists, Giuseppe Giacoso and Luigi Illica struggled for three years to find a coherent shape for their incidents chosen from Henri Murger’s novel ‘Scènes de la vie de bohème’” and that “with hindsight we can appreciate that it was Puccini’s pernicketiness which forged that unique mixture of the conversational and the lyrical that is the opera’s trademark”. I would agree that the opera does not overstay its welcome but it seemed to me that, by cherry-picking a number of incidents from the novel, the plot felt oddly unbalanced and disjointed. There are moments of great comedy that sit uneasily against the final angst and tragedy. And it seems a great shame to have constructed such a wonderful set-piece second act (in the Café Momus) which makes great use of a massive chorus and finishes with the show-stealing aria ‘Quando me’n vo’ soletta’ (gorgeously sung by Natasha Jouhl as Musetta in this production) only for the chorus to completely disappear as the opera moves to its bleak finale. Nevertheless the music was wonderful and the singing and playing (conducted by Jeremy Bines) was excellent.

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