Puccini: La bohème

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: NVC Arts
WORKS: La bohème
PERFORMER: Roland Wood, Alfie Boe, Paul Putnins, David Stout, Simon Butteriss, Melody Moore, Philip Daggett, Hanan Alattar, Richard Angas, Christopher Ross, Andrew Tinkler; English National Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Miguel Harth-Bedoya; dir. Jonathan Miller (London, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: 51865-9489-2

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Updating Bohème to the 1930s, the Paris of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, is perfectly viable; but this only make one wonder why Jonathan Miller bothered. There’s no visible gain; to today’s audience the era seems almost as remote as the original, and there are none of the insightful moments that made his ‘Mafia’ Rigoletto so exciting.

Miller’s attempt to reproduce the monochrome look of Brassaï’s photographs is another ingenuity misapplied, reducing Paris to a stupefying drabness, inauthentic even then. His human characters seem equally sterile.

Unusually for ENO, the female leads, and Colline, are imports. Again, why? American Melody Moore, with a fine if unexceptional voice, is a notably Junoesque Mimì; in 1930s fashions her simpering manners – another directorial wheeze, doubtless – unfortunately recall the Marx Brothers’ Margaret Dumont.

Compatriot Hanna Alatar is equally ill-served by the Louise Brooks look, making Musetta more a vulgar tart than a pampered ‘princess’. Marcello, too, is played as boorish and insensitive, his fellow Bohemians vacuous and surly. Best is Alfie Boe, an already experienced Rodolpho for Luhrmann and Glyndebourne – lyrical, true-toned despite some nasal moments, and amiably youthful, but striking few sparks with this Mimì.

Translation is a difficult job, with rhythms that demand Italianate names. Amanda Holden improves on the geriatric version used by Chandos’s Opera in English CD, but unfortunately contributes to the Bohemians’ coarsening, replacing genial banter with oafish, plonking double entendres.

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The most warmth in this whole affair comes from Miguel Hart-Bedoya’s open-hearted, flowing conducting. Michael Scott Rohan