After a long detox of La Boheme to regain my enthusiasm about the piece; lost due to heavy studing during my dissertation; Royal Opera House's somewhat new production intrigued me. ROH sustained the traditional John Copley production of La Boheme for over thirty years. Since 2017, new production of Richard Jones is staged. New productions are important tool for opera houses to attract audiences to long-staged pieces like La Boheme. Some take it too far and staged La Boheme on the moon; some made minor changes to stay on the safe side like Richard Jones's.
The first time I heard the Jonathan Tetelman as Rodolfo, I blamed my seat to have a terrible acoustics since the orchestra was so dominant, I had a hard time hearing the tenor. It turned not to be true when Eleonora Buratto as Mimi appreared. Vlada Borovko was a wonderful Musetta.
It was a no curtain staging and magical snow started long before the beginning. The Bohemians' house was a minimal rooftop. Darker and colder than John Copley's warm and cozy home.
La Boheme must be so real; sadness behind the joke, jealosy disguised as love, tuberculosis as a form of affection. The scene started with our four favorite Bohemians' everyday life, the jokes between them managed to amuse audience genuinely. However, rather than a everyday careless livings of artists, it seem like a Rossini styled forced comedy. The most touching moments and arias are shadowed by the continuing laughters. It seemed unnatural.
When Mimi and Rodolfo were walking towards Cafe Momus, the house disappeared from stage and three blocks of shopping passage arrived. It was a modern way to show street shopping of the original production. It's fresh and interesting. We see Cafe Momus entry in the right block of the passage. As our protagonists enter Cafe Momus, passages startes to move and Cafe Momus entered the stage. The continuance of the blocks and cafe was very good, we see waiters and people walking through moving pieces. Cafe Momus was also more modern with white table sheets and logo. This far, it was an interesting modern way of displaying Bohemian life, however the street life that should enrich the everyday conflicts of passion and pure love was not connected to this modernism. Childrens part was missing the actual toy seller; chorus reactions was missing the interaction with the Cafe Momus customers.
Musetta's aria should reveal the opposition of pure and fragile love of Mimi & Rodolfo versus passionate love of Musetta & Marcello. Musetta can be different than Mimi, but at the end, as dictated in the final act also by Mimi, should have a pure heart after all. But her playful aria to flirt with Marcello turned into heartless play that made her remove her underwear in the middle of the cafe. Mimi and Rodolfo's lines are just sang and not acted.
Act 3 opened with a small closed cabinet with a painting on the side. Casual acting around was again too synchronized to be casual. These small details was very important in La Boheme, but Jones clearly wanted to emphasize Mimi and Rodolfo as opposed to place them as an ordinary story among many others. At the end of this heartbreaking act and false promises to seperate in the spring were made, cabinet is drawn from stage slowly. Act finalised with empty stage (backstage was visible with previous act's setting).
Final act, as touching as it is, left all the jokes aside and showed different characters of Musetta, Marcello and Schaunard. All the Rossini act is left out and characters finally melt our hearts. Even the costumes were different. Musetta had a black dress, very different style than her red dress in Act 1. At the end, realizing Mimi's death one by one could have been acted better.
Conducted with Ariane Matiakh, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House was extraordinary. When it is our lovely La Boheme, we have certain expectations to find this bitter sweet and very natural story even in the most obscure productions. The production had some minor problems as mentioned above, however overall it was a satisfactory performance that made everyone cried. Genuinely everyone around my seat, including my sister who is a stranger for the art of opera, crying at the end. Sometimes a heartbreaking story is just one story among others and the most painful part is not the story itself but the experience.