When a performance of Puccini's 'La Boheme' comes to Auckland, it's too exciting an opportunity to pass up. But if you're contemplating buying a ticket to this 'Boheme' (now playing at Auckland's Ayatollah Centre before heading to Wellington) my advice on the strength of Saturday's show is "Don't bother." Or at least make sure you're tanked before you go."
The modern setting does nothing but detract from the story -- the dramatic pathos of burning one's manuscript is eliminated by the presence of a laptop; the freezing cold is vitiated by the summer-weight wardrobes of the men; and the addition of stormtroopers in the second act makes one think the director thought he was producing Janacek, not Puccini. Which is to say nothing of the 'modern' attitude of 'gum-chewing nihilist' adopted by the performers. At the moment of Rodolfo's passionate confession of love for Mimi, for example -- "Oh! Lovely girl! Oh, sweet face/ bathed in the soft moonlight./ I see you in the dreams/ I'd dream forever/... Already I taste in spirit the heights of tenderness" -- which thematically is the dramatic 'consummation' of their love, we see him leaning on the door, hands in pockets, looking bored. And we hear this passionate blast of love delivered at a volume so low it can hardly be heard, for in tenor Jesus Garcia we have a Rodolfo whose voice is as weedy as Mimi's consumptive lungs. This is the modern cynic par excellence, but it's not the red-blooded Rodolfo that Puccini ordered.
In fact, all the men apart from Marcin Bronokowski's Marcello lacked projection -- Bronokowski's fine baritone was the only male voice regularly able to be heard (and worth hearing) above the orchestra, which under conductor Emmanuel Joel-Hornak at least knew what they were doing: the music was exquisite, as was the singing of Tiffany Speight and Antoinette Halloran who played Musetta and Mimi respectively.
Both women were head and shoulders above their male counterparts, with Musetta's second act 'Momus' scene the real showstopper on the night.
If you've already bought tickets, then keep your eyes closed and your ears open for the two women and the orchestra. For the rest, your time is better spent in the bar.
PS 1: The Herald's William Dart appears to have seen a different show.
PS 2: Here's the weedy Jesus (pronounced Hey-Zeus) singing what should be the first act showstopper at Bordeaux last year:
And here's Jose Carreras and Teresa Strattas showing how it should be done (this is the whole scene -- from introduction to ecstasy in nine minutes):
And here's Mario Lanza.