Directors of operas sometimes seem to be allowed greater freedom to shift time and place than in spoken theatre. However, it doesn’t always work out. In the case of the David McVicar staging of Puccini’s La bohème, revived for the current Glyndebourne on Tour season, it works splendidly.
We’re in contemporary Paris, perhaps even in the banlieue, rather than in the pre-Hausmann city of Louis Philippe. It throws the poverty of the central characters into sharper focus, while the third act – that real heart of the tragedy – takes its proper place as the core of the story, for all the high jinks which bookend it. Michael Vale’s set with its revolve and gantry frowning down on the action is a key player throughout.
This production quires committed acting as well as fine singing, and the six main soloists certainly provide this. Both Keri Alkema as Mimì and Natasha Jouhl as Musetta excel both vocally and musically, with Alkema giving a moving and well-phrased account of “Mi chiamano Mimì” while Juhl sparks out “Qaando m’en vo” with true good-time-girl vivacity.
Vincenzo Taormina as Marcello gives another intelligent and well-sung performance. The Rudolfo of Atalla Ayan is also a well-rounded characterisation, though I would have liked a little more subtlety for “Che gelida manina’; the duets and ensembles seemed more comfortable for him at the opening performance in Norwich.
For the Café Momus scene, McVicar fills the stage with enough bustle and background mini-dramas to people a whole sequence of soap operas. Conductor Jakob Hrùsa allows the score’s lyrical surges their proper pace and knows when the abrupt chords which punctuate the action at key moments need to thunder out with spine-chilling effect.