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Chris Mullins
Opera Today, January 2011

The Royal Opera at Covent Garden has hit on a way to revitalize a vintage production—hire a fresh cast of virtually unknown singers.

John Copley’s very traditional staging of Puccini’s La Bohème debuted in 1974, and as Copley notes in a brief bonus interview feature, such tenor stars as Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras have dressed as Rodolfo on these sets. In the Blu-Ray picture, the crisp picture locates no obvious signs of age in the sets—at least, in physical deterioration. Whenever any stage action departs from the classic depiction of young love in Paris, there’s an air of a desperate effort to bring something fresh to a decades-old production. Thus, when Schaunard and Colline enter in act one, why are they accompanied by two silent women who help unload the groceries and then disappear? And why in act four does Marcello need a live nude model to inspire him as he sings of his former love, alongside Rodolfo?

Perhaps this old-style show needs star power, however, to make its greatest impact. This 2009 performance is pleasant enough, but none of the four key leads has anything particularly distinctive to offer, making the performance as whole rather forgettable. Certainly tenor Teodor Ilincai poses no threat to his “Three Tenor” predecessors. A baby-faced young man, his middle voice is pleasant but punchless, and the tight top dampens the the intended thrill of the high notes. Intonation is inconsistent, as well. As Mimi, Hilda Gerzmava possess more vocal security throughout her range. As an actress, however, she has little of either Mimi’s vulnerability. Gabriele Viviani’s Marcello captures the handsome, hulky side of the role physically, bu the generic nature of his instrument dulls the total effect. Inna Dukack struts as a Musetta should do in act two, squabbles as she should in act three, and softens appropriately in the tragic act four. Her big act two aria, however, feels mannered. The supporting cast politely refrains from stealing any scenes.

The truly interesting young star here can be found in the pit—conductor Andris Nelsons. He provides the precise rhythmic support that bounces along with the hi-jinks and keeps the romantic and tragic passages from turning maudlin. He gets his own brief interview bonus feature as well.

Memorable modern stagings of Bohème on DVD elude your reviewer’s memory. However, there are any number of options when it comes to traditional versions such as this one, and with more impressive signing from well-known names. Some people can never have enough of Puccini’s Parisian masterpiece, though, and this perfectly acceptable performance will undoubtedly please them.



James A. Altena
Fanfare, January 2011

Barry Brenesal reviewed the regular DVD version of this release in Fanfare 34:2; here is the Blu-ray issue, with the typical superior resolution and detail. While not by any means the best-sung Bohème on DVD, this is one of the best-staged and -acted. Although I love the Zeffirelli staging at the Metropolitan Opera (adored by audiences and singers, carped at by critics, like many Zeffirelli productions), I can understand those who find it somewhat outsized and lacking the gentle intimacy at the heart of most of the opera. No such complaints would be made here; while the sets are thoroughly traditional, and nod respectfully to some aspects of the Zeffirelli production (Rodolfo symbolically drawing the ragged curtain across the garret window in act IV, unaware as he does so that Mimi has just died), they are on a smaller scale that quietly draws the viewer in. Numerous small details are well thought-out; Marcello’s act I painting of the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea is the best version I’ve ever seen, the only one that truly looks as if it was produced by a skilled artist rather than a daubing hack. The acting is similarly winsome. The camaraderie of the bohemians is genuine and not buffoonish; the tenderness between Rodolfo and Mimi is palpable. Above all, the final moments of Mimi’s death, and the reactions of the various characters upon discovering it, are enacted with an utterly natural realism and affecting, heartbreaking poignancy that brings tears to my eyes. The camerawork is deft, never too distant or intrusive for a given moment. What a relief to have an opera production that does exactly what it ought to do—faithfully serve the libretto and score, rather than impose an alien concept upon it.

Regrettably, the singing is not on the same level as the other elements. Of the four principals, the star is Hibla Gerzmava as Mimi, who is exactly right for the part; both vocally and physically she reminds me of Victoria de los Angeles, and no higher compliment can be paid than that. By contrast, Inna Dukach as Musetta tends to be a bit shrill and at moments pushes her voice too hard; on the other hand, at the end of “Quando men vo’ soletta” she displays a stunning diminuendo and pianissimo on her high B that shows why she was cast for the part. Her acting also is uneven; she overdoes the coquettish shtick in act II (but then, how many Musettas don’t?), but in act IV she is intensely moving. Both Teodor Ilincai as Rodolfo and Gabriele Viviani as Marcello have rather thin and somewhat dry voices, though thankfully neither one has an upper-register spread; they are not bad, merely second-rate. By way of some compensation, Kostas Smoriginas as Colline is quite good and Jacques Imbrailo as Schaunard is excellent. As usual, alas, the Benoit and Alcindoro (cast separately here) both have hollow, wobbly voices. The conducting of Andris Nelsons is conscientious but a bit foursquare; the chorus and orchestra sing and play well; the recorded sound is fine. Interviews with Andris Nelsons and producer John Copley are included.



Eric Myers
Opera News, December 2010

PUCCINI, G.: Bohème (La) (Royal Opera House, 2009) (NTSC) OA1027D
PUCCINI, G.: Bohème (La) (Royal Opera House, 2009) (Blu-ray, HD) OABD7060D

John Copley’s beloved 1974 staging of La Bohème is still a fixture at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. It is currently one of the oldest productions remaining in the company’s repertory. A memorable performance of this production from the early 1980s is still available on DVD; it stars Ileana Cotrubas, Marilyn Zschau, Neil Shicoff, Thomas Allen, John Rawnsley and Gwynne Howell, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli.

Why, then, is the Royal Opera releasing this 2009 revival, with its no-name cast? Like many other houses, the Royal Opera often fills its Bohèmes nowadays with up-and-comers, relying on the opera itself to draw ticket-buyers in the absence of star power. But one wonders whether anyone who has seen or owns the previous version would want to buy this one as well, in which the same production is populated by Hibla Gerzmava, Inna Dukach, Teodor Ilincai and Gabriele Viviani.

If these were true stars of tomorrow, it might be a different story. But what we have instead is essentially a cast of proficient young singers, some of whom may develop into more interesting, individualistic performers in the future. The Mimì, Hibla Gerzmava, doesn’t really catch fire until Act III, when Puccini’s writing turns toward the dramatic and Gerzmava shows that she may have the makings of a good verismo singer. Her features and figure are not that of an ideal Mimì, but there is a temperament lurking here, and she phrases a fine “Addio.” Rodolfo is Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincai, who has a lovely, light tone, youthful ardency and supple dynamic control, but who doesn’t quite break your heart in Act IV the way a great Rodolfo must.

The casting of the Marcello and Musetta remains a mystery. Gabriele Viviani’s acting is stiff and wooden, his baritone merely serviceable. Inna Dukach has plenty of presence and physical charm as Musetta, but the small-voiced, strident sounds she emits render her “Qual dolore!” almost indistinguishable from the shriek of pain that precedes it. The other two Bohemians fare better. Kostas Smoriginas makes a memorable moment of his coat aria, singing with oaken tone and cradling the garment as if it were a beloved pet. Jacques Imbrailo’s Schaunard moves with grace and looks like he stepped out of a Daumier engraving; he gives a lively, committed performance marred, unfortunately, by the fact that his vocal production sounds unpleasantly constricted.

Jeremy White limns a delightful vocal and physical characterization as Benoit; Donald Maxwell gets a bit lost in the Act II hubbub as Alcindoro.

Conductor Andris Nelsons was making his Covent Garden début with this run of performances. Some found his conducting willfully idiosyncratic at times, but as evidenced here, he has a sure theatrical grasp of Puccini’s wondrous score.

Copley’s realistic production, with set and costume designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman, remains traditional and respectful. Brief interviews with Copley and Nelsons are included on the disc; neither man gives much insight into the creative process beyond letting us know what a genius Puccini was and how much they’ve always loved La Bohème.



Lawrence Devoe
Blu-rayDefinition.com, August 2010

Most previous Boheme videos feature singers much older than their on-stage characters. This opera’s magic is diminished if close ups expose excessive wrinkles and make up. On the other hand, if the leads lack mature voices, Puccini’s musical intentions are undermined. Fortunately, this cast has both youthful faces as well as expert voices. They not only look like their parts but behave like the impetuous twenty-somethings that they are. You might not know any of these singers now (as I certainly didn’t) but stay tuned, there are some major careers in the making. This live Covent Garden performance is remarkably free of vocal and orchestral gaffes. It is nicely paced by its conductor, Andris Nelsons, also quite young, who clearly understands his fledgling cast.

Video Quality

Except for the final act, all of the action occurs at night or in the pre-dawn hours. Viewers should be prepared for a stage that is dark but not to the point of obscuring key details in the very traditional sets. John Copley’s 25 year-old designs have held up well and capture the opera’s spirit perfectly. The film’s director, Robin Lough, puts his considerable live opera experience to the production’s advantage. To his credit, the full stage panorama is consistently maintained with judicious but limited close ups during solos. My only quibble, and it is minor, is the miscalculation of having Musetta shoot a rack of billiards before her big aria. Her bright orange dress was sufficient to get my attention.

Audio Quality

The sound track has the options of linear PCM 2.0 (48kHz/24-bit) or dts-HD Master Audio (96kHz/24-bit) for surround sound. This live performance at London’s Royal Opera House puts most of the sound up-front with a modest amount of rear hall ambience. The sonic perspective is that of a good (and expensive) mid orchestra seat. The voices are well recorded with proper warmth; no details are lost in the ensemble pieces. As a side note, the audience is amazingly quiet and applause restrained during the highlights, but after all, they’re British.

Supplemental Materials

There are two very brief (3 to 4 minute) interviews with director John Copley and conductor Andris Nelsons which yield little extra perspective on this production. Given that most of the singers are not well known, I would have liked some time to get better acquainted with them and their varied backgrounds.

• Booklet: Contains cast and credit listings, a brief synopsis and detailed background of the opera in English, French, and German and a couple of cast pictures.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

The Boheme BD catalog has three other entries. The English National Opera version can be dismissed out of hand since it is sung in English rather than Italian. The other two, a Teatro de Madrid production with superb videography and singing and a filmed version with the dazzling Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon offer strong competition. Given the pluses of a youthful photogenic cast, no weak artistic links, and superb staging and direction, this Boheme moves to the top of my list.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2010

John Copley’s production for London’s Royal Opera House has been one of the most attractive and realistic presentations of La Boheme it has been my pleasure to see. I would confess to being a traditionalist who likes to view opera as the composer intended, and here you can tick every box on your list of a visually ideal performance. The first act is a suitably shabby student attic in Paris of the 1830’s; the second act one of Covent Garden’s most elaborate sets, as it packs in the cafe and the street outside complete with a march past of soldiers; there is snow in the third act, and a nude painter’s model for the painter, Marcello, and the little bed on which Mimi dies. The cast also look their part, being young and attractive, but maybe a little too affluently dressed for their modest means. I did take the option of watching in Blue-Ray format, the colours and definition is well worth the little extra expense. Copley’s second act is packed full of action, the film director, Robin Lough, often keeping cameras well back so that we get the expanse of the cafe and its Christmas atmosphere - the film was appropriately made ‘live’ at Covent Garden in December of last year. Vocally it has that fresh element of youth, at times you could question the intonation of Teodor Illincai’s ardent Rodolfo, but he sings with a real beauty of tone, while he is matched by a Mimi from Hibla Gerzmava, who gives one of the most realistic death scenes to end a deeply moving portrait. Inna Dukach is a Musetta with looks to lure any man, her Alcindaro a nice cameo from Donald Maxwell. It would be difficult to find a better balanced quartet of Bohemians, Gabriele Viviani, Kostos Smoriginas and Jacques Imbrailo completing the team. The conductor, Andris Nelsons, is making a very auspicious company debut, drawing from his orchestra much detailed playing. Tempos allow the singers plenty of scope for moments of subtle expression. The disc is completed by the obligatory list of subtitles in English, French, German and Spanish.






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