Puccini: La bohème
LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: La bohème
PERFORMER: Teodor Ilincai, Hibla Gerzmava, Gabriele Viviani, Inna Dukach, Kostas Smoriginas, Jacques Imbrailo, Jeremy White, Donald Maxwell; Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House/Andris Nelsons; dir. John Copley (Royal Opera House, London, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1027 D
In every sense this Bohème glows. John Copley’s legendary staging with sets by Julia Trevelyan Oman, first seen in 1972, is renowned for its authenticity and detail, both architectural and human.
Full of telling little touches – the artist Marcello’s Act II girlfriend is his Act IV model – they bring 19th-century Paris’s bustle alive as effectively as any BBC classic, far better than Zeffirelli’s overblown Met effort or even the recent Netrebko/Villazón film.
Copley’s staging has already featured a host of stars, including all Three Tenors. The 1982 DVD recording, featuring Ileana Cotrubas, Neil Shicoff and Thomas Allen in their prime, has always been my first recommendation for an ensemble Bohème, no mere star vehicle.
This latest incarnation, betraying no trace of staleness, has no such stellar names – yet! – except perhaps Andris Nelsons, boisterous where precursor Lamberto Gardelli was nostalgic. Instead it offers a vibrant new ensemble, improbably youthful and good-looking.
Teodor Ilincai is a splendid Rodolfo, lighter-voiced and less overtly sensitive than Shicoff, but radiating Italianate lyricism and boyish good nature. Hibla Gerzmava is a gorgeous Mimì, lacking Cotrubas’s doomed winsomeness but with a richer, more passionate voice.
Gabriele Viviani’s Marcello, rightly a slightly older Bohemian, isn’t as robust of voice and character as Allen, but touchingly intense and heartfelt. Inna Dukach is a stunning Musetta. Smoriginas makes Colline the archetypal young philosophy student.
So often a dull role, Schaunard was enlivened by rising star John Rawnsley in 1982; the role is brought to life in this production by Jacques Imbrailio with dotty charisma enough to play the next Doctor Who. Lesser roles are excellent, too, Donald Maxwell’s Alcindoro a star turn in itself.
On DVD it looks and sounds wonderful – but on Blu-Ray it’s breathtaking. 1982 is a memorable vintage, but La bohème nouvelle est arrivée – a new recommendation. Michael Scott Rohan