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A "five star minus" performance
on 15 December 2009
Any reasonably decent performance of Bohéme will be so emotionally overwhelming that it will be very hard to be objective about it. But what might work well in the theatre may not seem to be quite so successful after repeated viewings on DVD. So it is perhaps right to pick up on one or two shortcomings, which are relatively minor when compared with the otherwise outstanding merits of this production.
Firstly the good things, though. This is a typical "Met" production in the best sense: good sets, costumes, principals, and chorus (and there are plenty of them). Now and then the conductor takes things a tiny bit too slowly for my taste but that doesn't detract much from what is a very fine performance in the pit. The acting is good, especially given that what might work well in the theatre doesn't always work too well on the small screen. It would be interesting to know whether anything was said to the cast about the fact that this performance was being recorded. Ludovic Tézier (Marcello) and Angela Gheorghiu (Mimi) in particular make quite a few tiny gestures which I would have thought wouldn't be perceptible to the audience but are very effective when seen in close-up. In fact Gheorghiu is the star of the show; she looks right, acts right and sings beautifully. That is not to take anything away from the other members of the cast, though, who are excellent in every way. It is pleasing to see Paul Plishka, a long-time stalwart of the Met, doubling the small parts of Benoit and Alcindoro. It is not his fault that he is not wholly successful in the second role, of which more anon.
So what's wrong with this production? As I have said, not much. To start with Alcindoro, though; I feel that he is let down by the camera work and/or the production itself. Although his is a small part a lot of fun can be drawn from the character. In other productions which I have seen he is physically bullied by Musetta and the Bohemians and, at the end of the Act, is presented with everyone's bill. Such opportunities are missed here. He isn't helped here, either, by the fact that he seems to get a bit lost amongst the crowd; mainly due, I think, to poor camera work.
Other reviewers have commented on the fact that at the end of each scene we are taken behind the curtain to see what is going on. Whilst this is undoubtedly interesting it is questionable as to how many times one would want to see this. Some might find it irritating, others not so. And after all you can simply skip through these sections if you don't want to see them yet again.
Having criticised the camera work I am sorry to say that the sound recording isn't perfect either. There are one or two occasions when the singer's voice changes suddenly when he or she turns round, or moves across the stage. This is presumably caused by the voice being picked up by different microphones but I would have thought it was something which ought to have been sorted out post-production.
All of the above detracts a little from what could otherwise be a virtually perfect performance. But then, perfection is something which can only be strived for but never actually achieved (although the Dessay/Florez account of "La Fille du Régiment" comes pretty close - but I digress). I find it hard to imagine that in the real world this performance of Bohéme on DVD will be bettered.
This is a "five star minus" performance and is heartily recommended.