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La Bohème, by Giacomo Puccini (The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 2009) [Blu-ray]  [NTSC]
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John Copley's enduring production of one of the most famously melodious and popular of all operas is a classic of the Royal Opera repertory. With historically accurate designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman and an excellent cast headed by Hibla Gerzmava and Teodor Ilincai, this 2009 revival, in which conductor Andris Nelsons makes a distinguished Royal Opera House debut, does full justice to Puccini's masterpiece.
"In every sense this Bohème glows. John Copley's legendary staging with sets by Julia Trevelyan Oman, first seen in 1972, is renowned for its authenticity and detail, both architectural and human. Full of telling little touches - the artist Marcello's Act II girlfriend is his Act IV model - they bring 19th-century Paris's bustle alive as effectively as any BBC classic...This latest incarnation, betraying no trace of staleness, has no such stellar names - yet! -except perhaps Andris Nelsons, boisterous where precursor Lamberto Gardelli was nostalgic. Instead it offers a vibrant new ensemble, improbably youthful and good-looking...On DVD it looks and sounds wonderful - but on Blu-Ray it's breathtaking. 1982 is a memorable vintage, but La bohème nouvelle est arrivée - a new recommendation. " (BBC Music Magazine ★★★★★)
"This release is a delight. It features their current production which has been doing the rounds since the early 1970s, here revived by the original director himself. Copley's production is traditional and beautiful, its chief concern being to tell the story directly. In December 2009 some criticised it for looking a little worn and shabby. Don’t believe a word of it! In the close-up of the screen it looks neat, fresh and as good as new, every piece of furniture and inch of set design serving the purpose of the drama nicely...Opus Arte's usual high standards are maintained in the presentation and title menus, and there are brief interviews with Nelsons and Copley about the production. There are many Bohèmes available on DVD, but this one is as recommendable as any, and it feels good to be able to say this about such a home-grown product. Covent Garden have kept this production for so long because it works so well, and I think that anyone with this DVD in their collection would feel the same way.
" (Musicweb International)
"Gerzmava is clear in tone and clean in style, the Rodolfo (Teodor Ilincai) light and unforced but wanting richness. All act naturally and well, Jacques Imbrailo (the Schaunard) with panache." (Gramophone)
"I adore John Copley's classic production of this opera, which has now been in the repertory at Covent Garden for forty years. This version comes from 2009, and features Teodor Ilincai and Hibla Gerzmava as a sensitive pair of lovers. In the pit, Andris Nelsons draws sumptuous, refined playing from the orchestra.
" (Presto Classical)
CastHibla Gerzmava (Mimi)Teodor Ilincai (Rodolfo)Gabriele Viviani (Marcello)Donald Maxwell (Alcindoro)Inna Dukach (Musetta)Kostas Smoriginas (Colline)Jacques Imbrailo (Schaunard)Jeremy White (Benoit)
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Andris NelsonsStage Director: John Copley
Catalogue Number: OABD7060DDate of Performance: 2009Running Time: 121 minutesSound: 2.0 PCM & 5.1 DTSAspect Ratio: 16:9Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES, ITLabel: Opus Arte
On DVD it looks and sounds wonderful - but on Blu-Ray it's breathtaking. A new recommendation. BBC Music DVD Choice. Performance ***** Recording ***** --BBC Music Magazine,sept 2010
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My thanks to the reader who has informed me of the double listing of this review - one correct and one incorrect.
Unfortunately this is a common software problem, especially where listings share similar titles, and cannot be corrected by reviewers.
Please be patient and understanding therefore and do not blame the innocent reviewer.
Either scroll down past this review or read it for unintentional additional interest if appropriate!
Best wishes - Ian Giles
Review of La Boheme / Royal Opera / Nelsons as follows:
I have read the many reviews for all three of the Boheme performances that I currently own. What is quite clear is that each of them receives enthusiastic support by overwhelming numbers who see each as the definitive version! There are also those who totally dislike each version. There are also minor reservations voiced about each version by a handful of reviewers. So where does this leave the prospective new purchaser?
Firstly it is possible to suggest that there are at least 3 good versions available, all of which are likely to give great satisfaction to a great number of people. This is perhaps because this opera is such a fine creation that it enables the participants to rise to their best. So if there is a world class team engaged it is likely that you will get a world class result with little risk of failure.
Rather than give a detailed review of each version therefore I will attempt a general summary of the options based on these 3 productions. They are the two Zeffirelli productions at The Met and at La Scala. There is also the Copley production by way of comparison at the Royal Opera.
There are some key considerations in my opinion. Firstly the group of four men must work well as a team in addition to individual merits. Rodolfo, Mimi, Musetta and Marcello must also communicate strongly to each other in the same way. The end must be genuinely draining.
The Met performance from 2008 delivers on all counts. Gheorghiu and Vargas both deliver a believable relationship with each other. All 4 men relate well to each other. Tezier and Arteta as Musetta also have a believable relationship and the whole production benefits from the extravagant, but always appropriate Zeffirelli concept ranging through an excellent garret, a spectacular Act 2 crowd scene, and the desolation of Acts 3 and 4. I personally feel that there are preferable Musettas and the small but important roles of Benoit and Alcindoro to those on offer here. The recording is of a good visual and sonic standard with sound presented in DTS 5.1 and stereo options but it is a shame that it has not been produced as a Blu-ray (yet). This is a very slick and professional rendition.
The competing Zeffirelli performance from La Scala is very fine too. This musters a particularly vibrant team of men who relate especially well together. The Benoit and Alcindoro roles are, to my mind, more effective. The Musetta of Hei-Kyung Hong is simply outstanding and is a far more effective flirty portrayal which also shows considerable humanity and depth of understanding in the last scene. The role of Mimi is very different to that of Gheorghiu as Mimi here is of a far more `ordinary' appearance and without Gheorghiu's innate glamour and sheer `star' quality which always radiates through. Gallardo-Domas portrays much more the ordinary attractions of an ordinary and rather vulnerable woman. In this she is well matched by Alvarez. These two skilled singers relate well in these ways and their shared tragedy hits home at that level. For me, I find this even more moving than The Met performance for all that's star quality. On the downside however, I feel that the staging in Act 2 comes over as rather more cramped and thus relatively static at La Scala and the conducting and orchestral response is just a notch less crisp. A direct comparison between the starts of Acts 1 & 2 in both performances will show this - but the differences are quite small and do not outweigh the many other virtues. The recording was made in 2003 and provides good imaging and the sound is presented in DTS 5.1, DD 5.1 and stereo options. These values are of good quality for 2003.
That leaves the Copley production at the Royal Opera as on offer here. I find my responses to this to be more uneven. The four men have the great advantage of being younger and not so well fed! The concept that these four men are living in abject poverty always stretches credulity when they are clearly considerably overweight as in most performances including the two Zefferelli options. However, the downside here is that Rodolfo in particular seems relatively immature and is unable to drag up the reserves of grief at the end. Alvarez does best at this followed at a short distance by Vargas. This Musetta similarly seems to lack the same sort of depth. One is aware that she is acting rather than being the part. Hei-Kyung is in a different league to this - and is also more seductively aware. The other men all do well but the star of this production for me is the Mimi of Gerzmava who has the youth, the voice and the concept of ultimate doomed fragility. The orchestral playing is possibly the best here as a result of fine conducting by Nelsons. The recording from 2009 is of good quality visually and the sound is presented in DTS 5.1 and stereo options
In conclusion then I would rate all three as fine productions in their ways with the La Scala / Zefferelli as first choice closely followed by the Met / Zeffirelli in second and with the Royal Opera production in third place. In the end though, it is all a matter of taste and personal preference as detailed reading of the many reviews will clearly reveal. Happy viewing and listening whichever you choose!
Rodolfo and Marcello portrayed by Ilincai and Viviana respectively have very good voices and are completely credible in their characters. Smoriginas and Imbrailo as philosopher and musician are likewise excellent in voice and character.
After the three have left and Rodolfo is alone Hibla Gerzmava arrives as a delightfully voiced Mimi, and it is obvious that their is a magic spark between these two artistes. Their duet as they leave for the cafe is absolute magic.
Act two is a very lively street scene and as the crowd thin out the cafe is revealed, it is well presented. When Inna Dukach arrives as Musetta she shows how this role should be played, her singing and acting is perfection. She is not even upstaged by the dog. Her waltz song is absolute magic.
Act three has suitably bleak gates to the city on a wintry day. The smokey guards hut is a master-stroke. There is a dimly lit cafe through which Musetta and friends can be just seen.
The outpourings of the main characters are very moving and Gerzmava produces some thrilling sounds.
In act four we are back in the studio, it is spring and the world is brighter, but our heroes are still impoverished. Marcello and Rodolfo are having creational problems and sing about it most pleasingly. They are joined by the other two and celebrate their meagre rations most amusingly.
The jollity is interrupted by Musetta leading a very poorly Mimi. All do what they can but eventually leave Rodolfo and Mimi who are absorbed in each other in a most engaging way.
As the others return and Mimi dies the excellent cast move me to tears, this does not happen often. Bravo!
As expected, given it is from our leading national company, the staging was wonderful, the voices sublime and the orchestral contribution was premier class.
Unfortunately we now come to the but.......
Opera should be about more than technical excellence. What differentiates an operatic performance from a recital or concert is the sense of dramatic presence, convincing characterisation and the interaction of the characters to portray the librettist's narrative intentions.
In this production an overfed Rodolfo and Mimi mock all dramatic pretence to be a starving poet and a consumptive seamstress.
Reality is further punctured by a Mimi searching in the Paris snow for her lover clad in a bright blue ball gown fit for a Duchess.
Given that the rest of the production was so well staged one might speculate that perhaps Ms Gerzmava was too much of a diva to dress down to a costume suitable for her character.
Whatever the reason this fact alone destroyed all dramatic believability for me regardless of the production's other excellent qualities.
I shall have to explore other available recordings in my search for a definitively convincing La Boheme.
Edit added 18th April 2016
Since writing the original review I have found reference to the "missing" act between Acts II and III (penned by Illica but regrettably omitted by Puccini from the final opera) in which Musetta gifts Mimi a beautiful gown and introduces her to a Viscount. It would appear that this production acknowledges the spirit of the missing act by having Mimi appear in the snow in the ball gown without actually including the act, presumably because Puccini feigned to orchestrate it. Confusing but understandable. Watching again with this in mind I find myself more accepting and believing in the dramatic integrity. Upgrade to 4 stars.
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