This was simply an outstanding production, which makes reviewing it terribly hard. One can either attempt to nit-pick (which seems mean) or rather tiresomely explain why everything was “amazing” (which seems vacuous). Given the choice I will lean toward the latter.
Jonathan Miller’s productions are always interesting and this marks the third revival of his 2009 La Boheme. The set is clever and conventional, with two rotatable building blocks serving to provide the garret, the bar, and various street scenes. Miller achieves something strangely stark with the attic that delivers the idea of struggling poverty without seeming too bare. Placing various items such as a plumbed-in sink against the fourth wall maybe helps with this. Either way one has an overriding impression of cold the whole time, the snow in Act III being particularly effective.
David Butt Philip’s Rudolpho is charmingly warm. His breath control is superb, and he manages to deliver himself of some astonishingly long yet still lyrical phrasing. The Marcello/Musetta relationship is appropriately adolescent, which provides a certain relief from the rather oppressive love between Rudolpho and Mimi. The singers are sonorously excellent, although perhaps lacking in a certain stage presence. Of course, they are supposed to be struggling artists so maybe that’s OK.
The notable exception is Angel Blue (Mimi), who has a powerful voice and splendid force of character. Act IV is a difficult one for a Mimi to pull off – the singer must be able to make enough sound to fill an opera house yet also convey realistically that Mimi is dying of consumption. I would have preferred a more tightly controlled pianissimo on this occasion, but nothing detracted from the emotional drama.
Angel Blue’s story is fascinating and she’s well worth discovering as an artiste. A former Californian model and beauty queen, she trained opera at UCLA and is starting to break into the professional opera circuit, and rightly so. The combination of good voice, looks, acting, and personality is what makes an outstanding opera singer. She’s got them all.
As always, the orchestra is marvelous. A warm carpet of sound supports everything while not being too intrusive, and Marciano positions the more poignant moments with exquisite precision. Perhaps some more dynamic variety would make it a truly exciting performance, although La Boheme is always more about the action than the music.
One sees so many versions of La Boheme with remarkably aged and well-fed “struggling young artists” covered in perspiration (due to the obvious cold). This production does not suffer such inconsistencies – it is realistic and is immeasurably improved for that additional level of grit. Every aspect of the performance scores very highly. I heartily recommend it.
- Music: Giacomo Puccini
- Director: Jonathan Miller/Natascha Metherell
- Conductor: Gianluca Marciano
- Cast includes: Angel Blue, David Butt Philip, Jennifer Holloway, Goerge von Bergen
- English National Opera, London
- Until 6th December 2014
- Times: 19.30
- Review by James Holloway
- 30th October 2014