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Jonathan Miller’s 1920s inspired staging of La Bohème returns to the Coliseum for its first revival and remains as uninvolving and under-cast as when it was new last year. Although Isabella Bywater’s sets manage to evoke a suitably gritty vision of Paris, they don’t allow for ease of projection by the singers, placing them way above the stage, nor do they help them engage with the audience.
Maybe if you had a thoroughly strong set of principals the drawbacks of the set wouldn’t matter so much but as it stands this cast is, maybe with one exception, not the sort of calibre one expects at ENO. The notable exception is Elizabeth Llewellyn’s finely sung Mimi, making her house debut. Her voice projects easily into the cavernous Coliseum and is not without a hint of metal, but this allows her to shape her music thrillingly and there was a real sense of theatrical frisson whenever she was on the stage. She clearly has an exciting career ahead of her.
the rest of the singing was pretty much uninvolving and ordinary. Gwyn Hughes Jones was a lumpen Rodolfo whilst the remaining Bohemians were an anodyne bunch – there was a time when the company would cast these roles from strength - they are all major parts so it’s hard to work out why they keep under-casting them with singers who simply fall short of the mark.
Miller’s staging doesn’t tell us anything new about the opera and although I’m probably in a minority here, I far preferred the Stephen Pimlott staging that it replaced as it positively oozed a sense of theatricality which its replacement fails to do.
In the pit Stephen Lord didn’t leave the singers much room to breathe but at least provided some excitement that was so lacking on stage.
- by Keith McDonnell