La Bohème at English National Opera

Jonathan Miller's production of Puccini's classic is still enchanting, writes Elizabeth Davis

English National Opera - La bohème from English National Opera on Vimeo.

Jonathan Miller's production of Puccini's La Bohème for English National Opera is an example of when transposing an opera's setting works seamlessly.

First seen in 2009, this production moves the famous love story between Mimì and Rodolfo to the Paris of the 1920s. In the excellent programme note by Elizabeth Wilson, it's made clear that although the fashions and hairstyles of the bohemians of the 1920s were different, they had much in common with the 19th-century artists Puccini had in mind.

The opera has become one of the best-known and best-loved in the repertoire and Miller's production sets Puccini's diamond-in-the-rough opera in the best possible light, without any extraneous fuss or frippery.

In the lead roles, tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones is brilliant as Rodolfo. His voice is full of the feeling that Puccini's writing demands, and he sings the English translation as if it has the mellifluousness of the original's Italian.

La Bohème at English National OperaPhoto: Donald Cooper. (L-R) Richard Burkhard, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Kate Valentine, Duncan Rock, Andrew Craig Brown

Soprano Kate Valentine is captivating as Mimì. But it's worth saying that, visually, this pair don't look like a besotted young couple. Still, close your eyes and you can hear the passion in the way they sing Puccini's ravishing score.

Musetta, played by the American mezzo Angel Blue, is sizzling. Her famous song designed to tease Marcello is as much petulant toddler ('Look at me!') as wily temptress.

The revelation of the evening I attended, however, was an understudy. The productions's Marcello was indisposed so the baritone Roland Wood stepped into the breach. And superbly so. His Marcello was a naive bear of a man desperately trying to fight against his baser instincts - and inevitably losing. He seemed to instinctively understand the hand-to-mouth existence of the bohemians and the hysterical euphoria on which their thrive.

Bass-baritone Andrew Craig Brown's Colline and baritone Duncan Rock's Schaunard are both strong in the supporting bohemian roles and help create a tight, engaging quartet alongside Rodolfo and Marcello. Conductor Alex Ingram in the pit communicates Puccini's luscious, bawdy melodies with aplomb. All in all, a highly enjoyable revival.

La bohème is at ENO until Saturday 29 June 2013