One of the perks of knowing the right people is getting to see things that we couldn’t otherwise afford. Yesterday we were privileged to see the open dress rehearsal of La Boheme at the Royal Opera House. An Open DR is the last one before opening night and apart from some of the singers trying to conserve their voices and not singing out this was the production as you will see it from Monday.
La Boheme is the one art event where boxes of tissues are more in evidence than ice creams in the foyer. It is a pretty simple love story. Consumptive Girl meets boy who falls in love. Boy, afraid he is too poor to help pretends to be jealous and they part. Girl, has a fling with rich viscount to pay the bills. But dying, returns to boy and coughs her last in his arms. On the way, we meet tarty girl who laughs at life and death. And a bunch of arty youths trying to fend off starvation with a lot of banter. You probably know some of the tunes and the bit about “Your tiny hand is frozen.” See, a surefire weepy.
The previous production had become a bit of a warhorse and had rumbled on for something like fifty years at the ROH so the time had come for something fresh and it’s this season’s hot ticket.
Except…. This production has gone out its way to disengage the audience. The settings are bare and stark and rely on in vision scene shifting on the open stage that was popular in the 1980s. I think that sensation of disengagement was most in evident with the harsh, flat lighting which made the first scene where the candle blows out and Mimi and Rudolfo are hunting for Mimi’s key in blank studio lighting, seemed perverse. I even asked whether this was merely there for the cameras at this rehearsal but apparently not. Allied to this there was some odd staging moments where the fourth wall seemed to appear and disappear at random moments and where, having established it at one point, the singers lined up and sang at it. There was also an amount of cold-acting from all and sundry the like of which I haven’t seen since the last local production of “A Christmas Carol.” Please movement directors have a look at how people actually move when they are cold and hungry.
I’m happy to say that there were one or two beautifully orchestrated stage pictures. Particularly the street scenes with the chorus and youngsters and, most touching and perfect of Mimi and Rudolfo exiting through the snow storm at the end of Act 3.
But the end, sadly, not a moist eye in the house. This was Boheme lite. Boheme with nought percent emotional engagement. Perhaps we were being shown some other aspect of La Boheme that has never been explored before. But I fear I missed it.
Oh, the singing was nice. And Antonio Pappano and the pit band were working hard to give us a good show. Definitely one to shut your eyes and hum along to.