Monday, 2 March 2009


27/2/09, ENO.

New production by Jonathan Miller.

It wouldn't be fair to say we came out singing the set, but design was a big part of this show's success.

The critics were rather rude. But then opera critics see too many productions of Boheme: they're bored, pernickety, hard-to-please. We've only ever seen it once, at this address many years ago, and I remember only two things about the evening: the soprano's voice cracked as she left the stage at the end of Act One and the beauitful love duet; and the bohemians' small, freezing garret apartment filled the whole of the Coliseum's vast stage.

No such problems with Dr Jonathan's version. The set was a triumph: a two story affair which came apart and turned to reveal a new setting. In the first version we were presented with the upstairs: a convincing attic studio, long and thin, at the top of a staircase in the centre running down towards the audience and turning into a hallway back to an open street door; at the top of the stair on the other side was a smaller room with a loo off it (used more than once). In the second version the whole thing turned to reveal the downstairs: a convincing Parisian cafe of the 1930s with tables, benches, awnings and the rest. In the third version the two halves came apart to reveal an alley between two buildings, and a cafe on the corner downstage left.

The date was the 1930s, the earliest for which we have decent photographic references for the period.

We thought it was a triumph for the designer.

The acting was convincing, too: from the upper circle they looked about the right age, behaved in a convincingly "playing-at-poverty-with-youthful-high-spirits" way and were equally convincing in the final act as Mimi was dying.

To my ear the singing was pretty good as well: musically we have no complaints.

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