PUCCINI La Bohème (Noseda)
Staged to mark the 120th anniversary of the 1896 premiere of La bohème at Turin’s old Teatro Regio (destroyed by a fire in 1938), this new production of Puccini’s warhorse offers an enjoyable, effective updating. Director Àlex Ollé presents a semi-abstract cityscape (the sets are by his Fura dels Baus colleague Lluc Castells) which is not in the least bit Parisian but grandly atmospheric, a riot of illuminated windows surrounding, in Acts 1 and 4, a warren-like array of rooms and stairways.
We can see Mimì in her apartment ahead of her entrance – the power fails in the building, and, in rather a nice touch, is reinstated just as Rodolfo touches that tiny little hand of hers – as well as various other peripheral comings and goings, which Tiziano Mancini’s occasionally overactive camera direction can be over-keen to point out. There’s an infectious party atmosphere in Act 2, where Café Momus is staffed by futuristic waitresses and Parpignol doesn’t feel entirely trustworthy. The grimness of modern urban life is never far away, especially in Act 3, set in some insalubrious corner of town frequented by workmen and working girls.
Some of the show’s modern touches inevitably don’t really work. Would the slobby Benoît we have here be vain enough to succumb to the Bohemians’ flattery, for example, even with the aid of a joint? Mimì’s death, of cancer here, also raises inevitable questions about this modern city’s healthcare provision. None of that matters too much, though, and the modern additions can’t hide the fact that this is a traditional Bohème at heart, true to the work’s spirit.
It also features an eminently likeable cast. Neither Irina Lungu’s Mimì nor Giorgio Berrugi’s Rodolfo is vocally ideal – she’s a bit overwrought and short on lyrical warmth, he is rather unrefined above the stave – but they make a plausible, sympathetic couple. Massimo Cavalletti is a sincere, touching Marcello, and Kelebogile Besong a deliciously over-the-top Musetta, as the staging demands. Benjamin Cho’s Schaunard and Gabriele Sagona as Colline complete the Bohemian quartet well, and the children’s chorus, in particular, is full of life.
It was a young Toscanini who presided over that first Turin Bohème, and Gianandrea Noseda doesn’t disappoint here, conducting with sensitivity and refinement, never indulgent but consistently moving. The orchestral playing, favoured by the sound balance, is of very high quality. All told, this is a touching and recommendable modern-dress Bohème.