La Bohème

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Composer: Giacomo Puccini

Libretto: Luigi Ilica & Giuseppe Giacosa

First produced: Teatro Regio Turin, 1896

Present Company: The Royal Opera, 2009

Director: John Copley

Designs: Julia Trevelyan Oman

Lighting: John Charlton

Video Director: Robin Lough

Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House

Conductor: Andris Nelsons



Rodolfo: Teodor Ilincia

Mimi: Hibla Gerzmava

Marcello: Gabriele Viviani

Musetta: Inna Dukach

Colline: Kostas Smoriginas

Schaunard: Jacques Imbrailo

Benoit: Jeremy White



Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50

Opera: 34.63 GB

Bit Rate: High (36-39 Mbps)

Italian DTS-HD MA 5.1

Italian PCM 2.0 stereo

Subtitles: English, German, Italian, French & Spanish

Region: All

Opera runtime: 113 minutes

Opus Arte 2010



Conception & Staging: B

Costumes & Makeup: A

Casting: A-

Singing: B

Orchestra: A-

Music Direction: A-

Video Direction: C

Image: A-

Audio: A-

Extras Features: C

Recommendation: B



It’s always pleasing to see a production with young singers in the parts of young characters - but then, Domingo and Carreras were young once and, in their turn, starred in the same Royal Opera House production as this one by John Copley. That’s a long time for a production to remain current, but then La Bohème is not one of those operas that lends itself easily to modernistic re-imagining.  In fact, Copley’s staging of Rodolfo’s garret can trace its origins to the opera’s premiere performance a century ago.

Giocomo Puccini’s La Bohème, along with Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Verdi’s La Traviata, is the most popular of operas.  And it shares with those icons of the art form certain expectations of performance, particularly of the principal characters:  Rodolfo, Mimi, Marcello and Musetta.  We carry a sound in our heads, be it Bjoerling, Pavarotti, Domingo, De los Angeles, Caballé or Freni, or some memorable performance we attended from recent memory when everything clicked and the audience went wild with applause.  It’s hard to put these memories aside when a new production comes along; the likelihood is that it will not challenge the best of the best.  But this we must do if we are to savor what a new cast and conductor have to say to to us.


Of course, it isn’t just the specific performance of past artists that we bring with us to a new audition, but our notion of how a given role should be sung.  I happen to be particularly sensitive to Musetta, who, in addition to technical challenges, there exist latent layers of character not so much present with the two leads that more likely than not will remain latent if she approached simply as a flirt.

La Bohème simply translated means “The Bohemian” and, despite the “La,” does not imply gender, therefore it does not refer to any specific character.  When I was very young I used to think it meant Mimi, since her story is the most tragic, but she is also the least bohemian.  She’s not even an artist.  Then I came to think it referred to Rodolfo: he’s the main man, after all.  It took some while before I realized that the title does not refer to any specific character, but to a life style and the story that evolves from it.  In any case “Les Bohèmes” just doesn’t scan.



Rodolfo, a poet (what else!); Marcello, a painter; Schaunard, a musician; and Colline, a philosopher, share a garret in mid-nineteenth century Paris. It is the time of the Moulin Rouge, of Édouard Manet, Baudelaire and Auguste Comte. The four men are the quintessential starving artists. They share temporary profits from odd bits of employment or the pawning of some of their belongings, and enjoy the heat granted in the ritual burning of Rodolfo’s unpublished manuscripts.  When there is found money they blow it in a night at the Latin Quarter where, on this particular Christmas Eve, Marcello’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Musetta, appears with some rich gentleman she is currently enjoying.


Into this delirium staggers Mimi, a seamstress.  She enters tentatively while Rodolfo is putting his thoughts together before joining his friends for one of their nights out.  Mimi knocks at the door.  She is a neighbor who lives by herself. Her candle has gone out and she has no matches.  When Rodolfo lights her candle, she loses her key “accidentally.” Rodolfo, in turn, hides it from her.  It’s love’s hide and seek game, but also the story of their lives in the simplest of metaphors.  


While the men laugh at poverty, Mimi suffers a nagging cough - and we all know what that means.  Neither poverty nor illness, however, prevents Mimi and Rodolfo from falling deliriously, hopelessly in love, with its attendant demands and jealousies. That’s about it - in four concise acts, scarcely two hours - with some of the most bittersweet and boisterous music you’ll ever hear, and an ending that will tear your heart out, providing the tenor is up to it.



Marcello is the first to speak.  The handsome Italian baritone Gabriele Viviani’s eyes are alive with boyish mischief.  I couldn’t want for a better looking actor for the part.  Alas, it is well into the second act before he finds his voice.  His sound is just about right and mingles well enough with Inna Dukach’s Musetta in both the middle acts which require very different temperament - flirtatious in the second; worried in the third.  Russian born American soprano Inna Dukach is very good as Musetta.  She sparkles with sexy flirtation, but she is not a tart.  Dukach tends to be more exuberant than her character requires to start with, but settles down as she moves her chair closer to Marcello’s.  She is well matched physically, if not entirely in voice, with her Marcello. She holds her last note in her big waltz in Act 2 Quando m'en vo longer and differently than I am used to - almost a pianissimo - but it came to grow on me. 

The danger for any production of La Bohème is that its Musetta can steal the show if the leads are not all that they need to be.  Rodolfo is hit and miss.  Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincia gets most of the soaring and high notes well enough, but the filler is a little lazier.  The pitch is there but at times lacks the same support he gives to the more treacherous moments.  I gather he was a late replacement for the billed tenor, Piotr Beczala, who was suffering from a debilitating cold, and which may explain in part his wooden, even unconfident acting.  He was at his best in the third act.  He’s still young, and I expect he will mature in both areas.


Soprano Hibla Gerzmava is from Abkhazia in the state of Georgia on the eastern shore of the Black Sea.  It’s hard to believe she is 39 in this performance, she carries herself so youthfully.  Her Mimi is clear and focused, if a little robust. Her high notes are lovely, filled with longing, never intense.  I liked her, yet I would have preferred a slenderer voice - something to convince me of Mimi’s frailty.

Colline and Schaunard are both competent, a little light perhaps, but completed the quartet admirably.  The other supporting characters, the landlord Benoit, Musetta’s date, and the toy vendor are played broadly for laughs and work well enough.  The chorus is good, the children even more so - or maybe I just expected less.  The orchestra plays well enough.  I found Andris Nelsons’ conducting focused, but brisk, the more tender moments a little superficial.


Video & Audio

Opus Arte gives us their usual artifact-free transfer, but the stage lighting, while aiming to be naturalistic and create the desired impressionable mood, is a little tiring and not much fun to watch for an extended sit.  The picture is often quite dark.  With few moments of relief, notably in the second act and the start of the fourth, even the “spotlit” actors appear to be underexposed.  The result are saturated colors, but without brilliance, though in truth I can see how brilliance would be a little out of place in a story whose characters are penniless. 

At first I wasn’t sure if it was John Charlton’s lighting or Robin Lough’s usually spot-on video direction or camera supervisor Paul Freeman or whoever might have been in charge of the way the light falls onto the camera se nsor, especially in the shadows, but so dark was everything not in the foreground that I had to make sure of my own projector calibration.  The dim lighting effects are compounded by browns and grays everywhere, especially in the artists’ flat.  The third act, night with falling snow, looks best on this Bllu-ray and was something of a relief in that I never wanted for more.  The long fade to black across an already dim set over Mimi’s final scene doesn’t work as well on video as I think it looks from the audience. It offers a new understanding of the term “crush”.


Camera framing and cutting is generally sensible and helps offer more light than a constant wide shot.  Still, I felt that Act 2 at the cafe is more confused than it needs to be. There are a couple of moments (notably in Musetta’s waltz) where the lighting opens up the scene, but overall it is too dim to create the necessary depth. As the customers leave at the end of the act, we want a hubbub, but we also want to be able to see what it’s about - longer shots here more often would have made it so. The only framing that rose, or sunk, to the level of a mistake, though, is right at the end: The camera should not be on Mimi as she dies.  The others don’t see her die. They have turned away in a moment’s hopeful denial. That’s where the dramatic power of this moment lies.  The camera should remain on the full stage until Rodolfo comes to her bedside.

As for the audio, the soloists come off well and the balances when they sing together are sensible, though there isn’t much of a sense of placement on the stage.  The orchestra and massed voices get a little constricted and shrill in fortissimo.  The triangle splatters, though that’s not unusual even in a pure audio recording.  The bass is strong and authoritative at all times.


Bonus & Recommendation: Interviews in HD with stage director John Copley (4:10) and conductor Andris Nelsons (2:55) plus a 32-page booklet that features an interesting essay about the origin history of the opera in English, French & German.  Overall, I felt the production more competent than engaging, not as moving as we should expect from one of the world’s leading opera stages.

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

June 1, 2012

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