Sunday, January 6, 2013

Il perché, non so!

Imagine my delight upon having the opportunity to see the Norwegian Opera production of La Boheme (2012, Stefan Herheim) again! In fact, I now have it on DVD! It wasn't provided to me as a promotional copy. Oh no! I came upon the honest way: I manipulated family into giving it to me as a gift. I had seen it many months ago when Den Norske Opera offered the streaming video on its web site. I was thrilled to see it again this evening.

Eric Berg / Den Norske Opera
This is a non-traditional production, as those wacky Europeans are wont to do. But it somehow works. Mimi dies in a modern hospital bed before the downbeat, and the entire opera seems to take place in Rodolfo's head. (He's a tenor, so there's lots of space in there.) The cast seems to alternate between modern-day medical personae and their characters in traditional stagings of the opera, almost seamlessly at times.

One bit that I haven't seen before [spoiler alert] is using the same singer/actor as Benoit and Alcindoro (yes, that's often done, but keep with me) AND Parpignol AND the drum major at the end of Act II AND the guard in Act III until he is always on stage. A presence you can't shake. We realize more and more that he's Death. He's Dr. Miracle, the Serpent, a male version of the Loreley. He's Lon Chaney.

Stefan Herheim
Eric Berg / Den Norske Opera
Although some of the modern medical meshugass was a little intrusive, I have to commend all the cast on their total commitment to the concept. Poor Rodolfo, on top of two high Cs in the first act, has to live through the lingering death of his most beloved treasure every night in a traditional production, but in this production he has to do it in two eras and I don't know how many levels of reality! Still, the stentorian tenor Diego Torre was more than equal to the acting challenges, and his high notes rang beautiful and clear from beginning to end. I'd love it if his middle and low had been as consistent as his high voice. This YouTube clip (apparently the only clip he himself has put onto YouTube to date) shows greater consistency of sound throughout than we sometimes heard in this Boheme.

Jennifer Rowley as Musetta, Vasilij Laduk as Marceloo
Eric Berg / Den Norske Opera
The women in the cast acquitted themselves admirably. As a ghost from the very beginning, Mimi had challenges not encountered in most productions. Marita Sølberg was vocally and dramatically committed in this, her first Mimi. Alternating between the ghostly figure in hospital garb and the bewigged seamstress of 19th century Paris did not interrupt her beautiful and expressive singing. As Musetta, the lovely Jennifer Rowley, a fan of whose I gladly admit to being, was all spitfire and sultry vocalism. The Toledo Blade recently wrote of her Musetta at the Toledo Opera "Musetta [was] played to the hilt by Jennifer Rowley, a young and robust soprano who shamelessly stole every scene she appeared in -- just as it should be." I can not say less about this portrayal. 21st century tart or 19th century tart? Did it matter?

Supporting cast was pretty darn good. The Schaunard of Espen Langvik and the Marcello of Vasilij Laduk were  beautifully sung, and I must say I've never seen Schaunard fighting with Marcello for Musetta before. (I have seen Schaunard and Colline as lovers, but that's a different post.) Although the Colline of Giovanni Battista Parodi had occasional intonation issues, I would highly recommend hearing him again. (And gazing into those eyes of his at every opportunity! But I digress.) The choruses, both children and adult, deserve praise for rhythmic accuracy (it's not an easy opera to sing chorus in!) and for acting. Handsome conductor Eivind Gullberg Jensen rallied the forces quite ably, and kept everything paced quite appropriately.

I hope you have an opportunity to see this production. We are all richer to have it available to us on DVD. It might not sell you on concept productions or updating in general--and I'm still not sold--but it might make you think about La Boheme in an interesting new way. Which is the idea.


Anonymous said...

This is right up there on my "must see" DVD list.

Per-Erik said...

A marvelous production! Much better in the opera house, but you get the general impression on DVD.

Raisa said...

Great review, David. I want to see this DVD too now.
I think the unique part of La Boheme is that it is a true tabula rasa. You can draw whichever concept you want on it and that concept will fit like a glove. You can make it as modern as you want, stay on the traditional side or combine both - any staging will look great.

Love the idea of the omnipresent Death in the production.The director did read between the lines, didn't he?