La Bohème

Reviewer's rating

Staging an opera that is set in Paris during a cold winter around 1830 at an Italian open-air festival in midsummer is definitely not an easy task. And seeing the singers walking around on stage with many layers of clothing, while the majority of the audience use their program booklets as fans is definitely a funny sight. Director Alfonso Signorini however immediately manages to create an ambience around the tragic Bohèmiens with a smart use of the stage’s charming location, right in front of the Lago di Massaciuccoli as well as the festival’s lighting fixtures (a very aesthetically sympathetic lighting concept by Valerio Alfieri).

At the beginning it’s clear: here one focuses on a strong visual effect. In an indoor theatre this would have probably been a problem for the success of the directing concept, but a modern dress adaptation would have found very little recognition here in such a location. Therefore the decision of the Puccini Festival to show operas in a rather conventional way was surely the right one. Leila Fteita equips the staging with three imposing set designs, each very focused on the details and historical features of the early nineteenth century, and also her costumes have very little deviation from the classical “Bohème” productions. A stunning visual effect. But having achieved this promising start, the absence of any real personal direction in Signorini’s production is troubling. The different characters often sing and act past each other so that the chemistry of this very intimate love story gets a bit lost.

The Gran Teatro All’Aperto surely provides a wonderful ambience with its beautiful location, but for musicians the very dry acoustic of the auditorium can be a real challenge. It requires a solid technique to be heard in every one of the 3000 seats: a technique He Hui definitely owns.

The acclaimed Chinese soprano, who has achieved worldwide success with her interpretation of mainly Verdi and Puccini, gave a stellar role debut as Mimi this evening. The immense richness that her voluminous soprano has developed, made her interpretation of the suffering seamstress truly unique. With her voice fitting this tragic role so well, I wonder why she hasn’t attempted this role earlier in her career. At her side is Jean-François Borras, a French tenor with roles coming up at renowned houses like the Vienna State Opera. His beautiful, natural voice allowed him to reach notes like the high Bb (especially in “Mimi è tanto malata”) with so little effort. After seeming a bit nervous in the beginning before his big aria “Che gelida manina”, he was able collect himself and delivered a very convincing portrayal of the lover Rodolfo.

Energetic acting and a great accuracy in the high register was brought by Ivana Čanović, who presented Musetta with so much charm and liveliness. In smaller roles, George Andguladze sung an imposing Colline (His aria “Vecchia zimarra, senti” was enthusiastically applauded by the audience), and Daniele Caputo as Schaunard presented an excellent singing technique. Only Nikola Mijailović couldn’t really convince as Rodolfo’s loyal friend Marcello. His baritone had the required high register for the role, but his voice lacked volume and force to project over the excellent Festival Orchestra under the baton of Mārtinš Ozolinš. The chief conductor of the Lativan National Opera extracted such a richness of tone from Puccini’s score. Orchestral passages from the well-known score were presented in so many different colours and even with the dry acoustic, solo instruments were wonderfully inserted within this rich sound collage. A brilliantly played violin solo at the end of the opera brings back the motive from Mimi’s first aria and so the sick girl can finally die, this time not above the roofs of Paris, but in front of a lake, accompanied by the slowly rising moon.