La bohème - Royal Opera House, 23 December 2009
I was crying at the end of this Bohème alright. With laughter. Had Musetta sacrificed more than her earrings for Mimì? Let's just say the resemblance between the proffered fluffy white muff and her show-stealing Act 2 canine companion* was a striking one.
(*'Pickle' the German Spitz, per programme).
But it's the least of this dreadful old production's problems. Where do I start? The artist who can't afford to eat but can pay a nude model? The door which supposedly leads to a staircase placed in what is clearly an external wall ? The wagon which rocks throughout the Act 3 prelude then spills out a flustered couple at its end (a 'colourful' addition unsupported by either music or libretto)? The vast distance between Rodolfo and Mimì as he sings of gazing on her face? Even the welcome sight of Kostas Smoriginas in his underpants was, on mature and objective reflection, gratuitous, though it pains me to admit it. I won't go on. Cinematic style realism, which is this production's aim, relies on getting the details right - all of them. No amount of gasp-inducing fake snow can cover that up.
Some productions are traditional in a good sense. They respect the music and the words, and deal with both honestly if unimaginatively. But this one is simply tired, lazy and past it. I can only guess at what sort of internal politics keep it on the schedules.
The music was some compensation for the torture of the visuals. Andris Nelsons, on the third of his five nights, began brilliantly. The first two acts displayed a chamber-like grasp of colour and detail. Every single note mattered. His dynamic range was broad and bold, his daring luftpausen perfectly judged to highlight what followed without losing track of what had passed. The orchestra played beautifully for him, as well as they have for Pappano and Bychkov in recent months. Something changed after the interval though. The exuberance had faded, the lustrous detail was blurred. Still perfectly good, just not quite as emotionally gripping. I didn't, incidentally, notice any of the pit/stage co-ordination problems some of the first night reviewers commented on.
The cast too is a solid one. Although there was an air of routine to Piotr Beczala's Rodolfo, he stepped up a gear to project his big numbers with more ardour. Hibla Gerzmava was a strong Mimì, perhaps too robust to be entirely sympathetic. Gabriele Viviani (Marcello), Inna Dukach (Musetta), Jacques Imbrailo (Schaunard) and Kostas Smoriginas (Colline) completed the well-rounded central ensemble, the only small complaint being a certain similarity between the voices of Hibla Gerzmava and Inna Dukach. They deserve a better show.
Production photos here.