La Bohème - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater, Munich, 30 December 2009
Otto Schenk's Munich Bohème, which recently celebrated its fortieth birthday, proves that a traditional production if thoughtfully crafted needn't have a sell-by date. From a glance at the photos, it doesn't look that different from Covent Garden's slightly younger yet markedly more tired effort. What sets it apart are the details. It's sensitive to the emotional temperature of the music, attentive to the text, and doesn't indulge in gratuitous additions. Nobody just stands there and barks out their lines across the stage. When Rodolfo and Mimi fall in love, they move closer together. When she's in bed dying, his arm supports her.
What is particularly successful is that even on the packed stage of the second act, the eye is unerringly directed towards the action. Not earth-shattering stuff but it takes great skill. A novice could follow the action without understanding the words or knowing the plot. The production illustrates the story, which is the one and only selling point of the traditional style. Otherwise it's just a concert performance with a twee backdrop. Mentioning no names.
Under Asher Fisch the orchestra were sleekly assured. Not the most detailed or dramatically exhilarating performance I've ever heard, but a beautifully balanced and mature reading.
This particular run is outstandingly well-cast, and there were some superb performances. All were slow to find their voices - we had to wait until the third act for Anja Harteros's wobbles to settle and her sweet and touching Mimi to blossom. I could forgive a little shoutiness from Levente Molnár's big-hearted joy of a Marcello, and Musetta's petulant charm was captured perfectly in the beautiful silvery soprano of Elena Tsallagova, a name to watch out for. But Massimo Giordano's Rodolfo stole the show, a reminder that the real tragedy in La Bohème is not Mimi's death, but Rodolfo's loss. Giordano's grief radiated across the auditorium - I wonder if anyone managed to stem a tear.
***** more photos on next page *****