Michael Vale’s superb set supports Director David McVicar’s 2000 revival with the action placed firmly in the 21st century with hoodies and laptops, Jaegar bags and Fortnum and Mason hampers, concrete, lines of coke and mobile phones.
The garret is wonderfully squalid with crumbling walls, festering fridges and exploding electrics making believable the intense cold and consumption from which various protagonists suffer. Set upon a revolving platform with an overhead metal walkway, the dreary interior is soon replaced by an equally dire hall or graffiti-adorned streets or the colourful mayhem of last minute shopping in and around the vibrant Café Momus.
Under Jakub Hrusa’s baton, the GOT orchestra delights in the soaring lyricism of Puccini’s score ably (but occasionally rather loudly) supporting the emotional rollercoaster of star-crossed lovers the consumptive Mimi and poet Rodolfo (tremendous Glyndebourne debuts by American soprano Keri Alkema and Brazilian tenor Atalla Avan whose duets are full bodied and tonal).
As jealousy and illness wrenches the intense lovers apart, flat-mate and artist Marcello (baritone Vincenzo Taormina) bickers and makes up with his feisty former lover Musetta (an excellent portrayal by soprano Natasha Jouhl) providing counterpoint and fun particularly when trading insults during Mimi and Rodolfo’s Act III love duet.
Polish bass Lukas Jakobski’s Colline is brooding and flippant by turns and rises superbly to the occasion of singing farewell to his coat before pawning it for medicine which arrives too late.
Costume designers Mikki Engelsbel and Mark Bouman provide straightforward jeans, trainers and leather jackets for the lads but the careful contrast of layered soft knits and flowing shirts for Mimi and hard chavy glitz for Musetta is spot-on.
Add a dash of fire-wielding street performers, reindeers on stilts and fine supporting performances from Richard Mosely-Evans, Nicholas Lester, Anthony Osborne, Michael Wallace, Benjamin Cahn and the chorus (including a gaggle of talented youngsters playing over-excited insubordinate kids), and this all adds up to a spectacular, entertaining and accessible evening.