La Bohème, the eternal ode to joy of life, celebration of life itself, La Bohème still fills opera houses all over the world: one of the reasons for this success must be its lovely symmetrical construction, or should I rather say in yin and yang: things are mirroring themselves, everything is entwined. Life, death, play in the midst of misery, youth and old age: Mimi, who is fragile and sensitive, just like Rodolfo, her poet – and Musetta, who is life itself, and whose generous and sensitive heart will be revealed only in the final, just like Marcello, her painter. The merry gang of youngsters, who triumph over the two old men, and yet death sits already at their table. Mimi and Rodolfo, who are putting up their separation until Springtime, Musetta and Marcello quarrelling next to them, separation being imminent. All those ambiguous situations by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica and Giacomo Puccini are perfectly illustrated in this production by Netherland’s Nationale Reisoper from 2011, taken up here in
The miserable attic room is still a miserable attic room, its walls are papered in sky-blue, a text being visible on them about the bohemians: the article Rodolfo is writing? Murger’s book? The romantic stove has made room for a wall radiator, and the entrance door is awry. At Momus’, still in sky blue and white, the choir, dressed in white cooks’ jackets, and the dancers who accompany Musetta stand on an enormous heap of Christmas parcels. Clear and sober, this scene is more understandable than in other productions. Still sober, but more sombre, the setting of the third picture is the backyard of a night-club, where a giant hole in the wall spills a heap of garbage bags. The early morning people logically are garbage men and restaurant delivery persons. The last picture finds us again in Marcello and Rodolfo’s attic, but we see it from up high: Rodolfo is lying on a couch, Marcello on the floor. It’s in this posture of optical illusion that they sing their duet. Then they get down from the wall, as their friends arrive. The rest of the scene will be played on the almost bare stage, with a few props taken down from the wall: the bedding for Mimi and Colline’s old coat.
Paul Keogan’s lighting illuminates the action perfectly, highlighting a detail here and there, without ever being redundant in its contributions. An excellent cast lives in this world: everybody is at their place here, and perfectly at ease in their singing and playing. Grazia Doronzio’s Mimi is strong in the fragility and her pianissimos are movingly intense. When she describes how she revives in the first rays of sunshine, we revive with her, and at her death, we are just as overwhelmed as Rodolfo, incarnated here with tenderness and conviction by Scott Piper. His clear and warm timbre gives life to this mixture of merriment and despair, particularly moving in the final. Julie Fuchs is Musetta and she is a woman without compromise, who knows what she is worth and what she wants. She is neither afraid of playing a go-go-girl, nor of selling her earrings for a sick friend. With her rich and round soprano, Julie Fuchs inhabits this character and all her nuances. Armando Noguera, baritone warm and well nuanced, plays an adorable Marcello, all of fake flippancy and true sensitivity. Last, but not least, the friends: Colline, played by Gordon Bintner and Schaunard, Igor Gnidii, thoughtful and playful in turn, are the ideal completion of this cast. The Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, conducted by Mark Shanahan, carry this ensemble with intensity dense and discreet, with sustained pianissimos full of suspense (the very small dialogue between Mimi and Marcello “Musetta e tanto buona” – “lo so” becomes thus a whole novel in its own right) and force and fugue in the tutti parts. Let us also remark upon a public who know to be silent until the last note has died down, before the well-merited applause and bravos. A very lovely production therefore, which we leave with music sounding in our heads, meditating quietly about life and death which are, after all, one.