For this new production of Puccini’s La Bohème, director Claus Guth offers us a bewildering journey into space.
It was with a mixture of excitement and concern that I attended this new Bohème at the Opera of Paris. Even before the première, the controversy had already begun. So, genius or betrayal?
In terms of cast, Sonya Yoncheva won all the applauses. We recognize that the singer has a particularly seductive and easily recognizable tone. Nevertheless, the first part of the show had some difficulties.
Her air « Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì « , is well sung, but is slightly lacking embodiment, probably because of the staging (we will be back to this later). Her voice is sometimes covered by her partners and the orchestra. The final high note of the 1st tableau vibrates very dangerously. Obviously more at ease in the 2nd part, she offers us wonderful moments of intense emotion, as in the final scene where the voice gradually fades away with the character.
Alongside her, tenor Atalla Ayan portrays a touching Rodolfo. His tone is superb and he seems to have no difficulty in the role, even in the terrible high pitches of the popular Che gelida manina! . Marcello and Musetta are particularly well embodied by Artur Ruciński, who has an impressive volume and is a very convincing actor, and by Aida Garifullina, with her delightful tone, her flawless technique, her radiant high pitches and her ability to make people laugh (tables 2 and 3) and be moved (table 4). Alessio Arduini and Roberto Tagliavini complete this homogeneous casting.
We were eagerly awaiting the bastille debut of Gustavo Dudamel. We are won over from the very first bars. The conductor draws colours from the Orchestra of the Opera of Paris that we rarely heard before. The nuances, the contrasts, the atmospheres, the tempi… everything is beautifully led and creates an enchantment for the ears. He wins a well-deserved triumph at the final salutes.
Musically, we are close to faultless, but we must admit a little disappointment about the Choirs of the Opera of Paris, who shows slight set-up problems, which will surely be corrected in future performances.
To talk about the staging I have to put on my angry purist outfit…
I generally appreciate reinterpretations, especially in known works such as La Bohème, and I’m not looking forward to yet another version of Zeffirelli‘s work, with a beautiful scene on a gigantic stage. The staging of opera is not just a beautiful setting…
In the 1st tableau we see stranded astronauts, waiting in vain for help and remembering the happiest moments of their past lives.
The reference to Solaris is pretty obvious. But the public still needs to know the opera very well before coming to see it. When a character (in this case Benoît) disappears from the cast for staging purposes, it is already a bad sign. The overall result is quite complex to follow, and even completely hermetic to people who would see La Bohème for the first time.
Mimi is a hunting memory of Rodolfo’s past. The closer the poet gets to death, the more his old life overwhelms his spirit.
This space Bohème is therefore a huge flash-back. When the jubilant crowd of the 2nd tableau turns into a funeral procession for a Mimi not yet dead, a flash-forward is added to the flash-back. With the doubling of the characters (a singer and an extra for the main roles), we sometimes have 3 temporalities superimposed on the same scene.
It’s hard to follow! And if it is necessary to read the 37 pages of the director’s intention notes beforehand in order to understand the internal coherence of the show, it is nevertheless revealing of a conceptual problem, especially since La Bohème is not one of the most difficult intrigues to understand. The transformation of the 4th tableau into a cabaret scene works for a few moments and finds its logic in the idea of the caracters trying to forget the sadness of their daily life. But it ends up undermining the dramatic impact of the scene and the music, especially in the air of Colline « Vecchia zimarra, senti » backed up, who knows why, by a slightly irrelevant mime number.
Needless to say, the show has been considerably heckled. The booing and shouting between the spectators began at the beginning of the third tableau. » Betrayal! « , » Close your eyes! « , » Shut up, uncult! « , » Down with the staging! « … That was to be expected. And considering the great overall quality of the musicians, we think that all this looks like a beautiful waste. What a shame!
Looks like opera apparently continues to arouse strong passions. That’s a good sign, right? Opera is not a dead art !