We review the revival of the Puccini opera “La Boheme”, at ENO in London just a few days ago, and ask – is this a simple story, a view from a distance so to say, where you and I are looking on almost against our will, through some window – or a classic love story, that has stood the test of time?
Perhaps it is both.
I never thought during this performance, that I was in the grip of a serious romantic affair, as say I have been in Madame Butterfly, or Carmen. But I did feel that I was a voyeur, and unable to change any of the outcome. I knew Mimi would die. And the facts are these:
If you are looking for an Opera that mirrors life in all its seediness and lack of hope – then the Puccini classic, “la Boheme” would not be a bad choice. Created just a few years after the Emile Zola equally classic novel “L’Assommoir” (the boozer…), if you want to get down and dirty amongst the very poor, well Paris in the late 19th century, is where it’s at.
The story is simple enough. Art for art’s sake does not pay the bills. Mimi, who by that time, is already freezing to death, finds love with Rodolfo – who then gets jealous, – and it doesn’t end happily ever after. It’s an opera, after all.
For once, the tension that we normally expect and associate with ENO production, did not readily surface until Act 3- and yet all the classic ENO properties were there; very tight production, wonderful orchestra; great melodic delivery. For me, it took the arrival of Louise Alder, as Musetta, before things started to happen; her approach is almost Mozartian, very staccato and pin-point, it cuts through perhaps the saccharine lines of her colleagues.
And that’s unfair, because this production has stood the test of time. My graphic above shows the programme of La Boheme in 2010, and nothing has changed.
This is an Opera and performance where you can take anybody who does not know about opera, but wants a classic music evening. Obviously, there is a new class of performers, if you like, a new generation. Ben Glassberg excelled in the power of conducting the ENO orchestra. And there was great interplay, particularly Act1. If I was feeling distant in watching the story unfold, then it was also nice to be entertained, as opposed to be educated.
The thing is – the story, and its delivery, just works almost on autopilot. You sit back and let ENO deliver. And if there are questions, such as; “are Mimi and Rodolfo actually in love?” – well, could be…. And “why does Mimi have to die”? – well, that’s what happens, it’s the wrong part of Paris at the end of the 19th century. It’s a story, and these are the facts.