Opera review: La Bohème

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino’s production of Puccini’s classic

Harry Cochrane
January 2, 2020 - 10:17

Until January 5, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino stages Bruno Ravella’s and João Carvalho Aboim’s production of Puccini’s classic Christmas opera, a story of love, hunger and roofs-over-heads in fin-de-siècle Paris. Peopled by penniless, sensitive and starry-eyed students, its themes need no updating, which lets Angela Giulia Toso and Tiziano Santi go hammer-and-tongs at period costumes and a colourful set-design, which lends itself perfectly to Act Two’s choreographed chaos.

 

 

La bohéme ph. Pietro Paolini

 

 

And it might be said that this production is more confident the more bodies it has on stage. I saw one of the three possible Rodolfo-Mimì combinations, and they did not quite manage to hide the fact that Act One contains some toe-curling dialogue. Or monologues, rather, as in ‘Che gelida manina’ and ‘Mi chiamano Mimì’, each of them gets one of the most famous arias in the repertory. Eva Kim Maggio’s front-of-stage, top-of-lungs delivery cut straight through the orchestra; still there was a certain lack of chemistry between her and Francesco Galasso’s Rodolfo. But then the stage was flooded for the second act, a Christmas market in Paris’ Latin Quarter, and all of a sudden festivity reigned in the auditorium. Nikoleta Kapetanidou’s Musetta was as femininely fatal as they come, reeling in actors and audience alike and spearheading a strong night for supporting roles.

 

Act Three opens on a wintry wasteland, with a pale, frail Mimì staggering out of the mist as her tuberculosis takes hold. It was as if the relative lack of scenery brought her closer to her co-star: their duet, performed over a tiff between Marcello and Musetta, was an exhibition of fine singing and balanced stagecraft. It was at this point that I knew that I cared about the characters, who, despite their cold and hunger, are kept just about warm enough by their bust-ups and make-ups. La Bohème is, after all, an opera of small things.

 

La bohéme ph. Pietro Paolini

 

 

Nowhere is this more true than in the fourth act, when Musetta pawns her earrings and Colline sings a farewell aria to his coat: ‘Passar nelle tue tasche...filosofi e poeti’ (philosophers and poets have travelled in your pockets). By now, Mimì is ruling the stage from her improvised bed on the floor. Tears come to the eyes as Colline’s and Rodolfo’s voices crack, in one of opera’s most famous instances of song giving way to speech. La Bohème charts the physical decline of its eponymous character, but this production goes in the opposite direction, starting shakily but ending triumphant.

 

 

 

La Bohème 

Teatro del Maggio

January 3 and 5 

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