Puccini: La bohème

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Arthaus
ALBUM TITLE: Puccini
WORKS: La bohème
PERFORMER: Cheryl Barker, David Hobson, Roger Lemke, Christine Douglas, Gary Rowley, David Lemke; Opera Australia Chorus & Orchestra/Julian Smith; dir. Baz Luhrmann (Sydney Opera House, 1993)
CATALOGUE NO: 100 954
Baz Luhrmann’s production, now wowing audiences on Broadway, was originally staged by Australian Opera in 1990. With much the same cast it was revived in 1993 and recorded on video. Like many recent versions it moves the period forward from the 1830s to something much nearer the present day – in this case 1957. Since there were no customs tolls in Paris then, the third act is removed to the Franco-Belgian border, which weakens the concept of Paris as a thematic constant in the piece. But with a few minor cavils, updating Bohème does no harm – the story is as near-universal as they get.

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There has obviously been a desire to have a young, good-looking cast interpret the central roles, for perfectly understandable reasons. But if it means compromising vocal quality, more harm than good is done. Opera is a visual art, but above all it’s a vocal art, and some of these voices and interpretations are pretty ordinary, however film-star the looks. Cheryl Barker remains in the lead as Mimì, even though one feels she’s more of a natural Musetta.

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Surprising, too, that the acting is not more detailed or interactive – many more traditional versions offer greater impact. So notwithstanding efficient conducting from Julian Smith, it’s not very involving, despite the street cred. The picture quality is only so-so, and there are no extras on the disc. The booklet supplies biographies of Luhrmann and Barker, but not of the other performers taking part. George Hall