La Bohème, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, October 2010Posted on 19 October 2010
This is the first time I’ve seen Jonathan Miller’s 2009 production, and I was enchanted. The sets and costumes by Isabella Bywater, based on images of Paris from about 1932 by the famous Hungarian photographer, sculptor and filmmaker Brassaï, are wonderful. The roofs stretching into the distance, though merely painted on a side screen, look entirely solid, and I loved the way the set opens out to transform the bohemians’ garret into the café Momus. With superb lighting designed by Jean Kalman, this is a magically authentic production.
As I felt the energy of the orchestra in the first few bars I sat back to enjoy the musical direction of Stephen Lord, and wasn’t disappointed. After Mimi came on he opened out the music most charmingly, and Mimi herself was the star of the show, gloriously sung by Elizabeth Llewellyn, making her ENO debut. This is a young woman to watch out for, and according to the programme she will sing the Countess in Figaro at Opera Holland Park next summer. I look forward to it. Her Rodolfo was Gwyn Hughes Jones whose noble tenor voice could have used more vulnerability and enthusiasm. Roland Wood was a convincing Marcello, and I loved his duet with Mimi in Act III. His difficult lover, the effervescent Musetta, was strongly sung and performed by Mairead Buicke, though her diction was lost in the vibrato. For those who prefer their La Bohème in Italian, I’m inclined to agree, but I did rather enjoy Amanda Holden’s translation.
The four bohemians interacted well together, and their horseplay in Act IV, before Musetta comes into the apartment to announce Mimi’s fateful entrance, was perfectly done. This production never goes over the top, but it creates fun, emotion and pathos at the right places, and for those who saw it last year, it’s worth revisiting just to hear the young Elizabeth Llewellyn. Further performances are scheduled for: Oct 20, 23, 28, 30; Nov 3, 5, 12, 18, 25; and Jan 22, 25, 27, with Alfie Boe singing Rodolfo in the January performances. For more details click here.