PUCCINI: La Boheme (complete opera), Blu-ray (2009)
Cast: Anna Netrebko (Mimi)/ Rolando Villazon (Rodolfo)/ George von Bergen (Marcello)/ Nicole Cabell (Musetta)
Conductor: Bertrand de Billy/ Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, chorus, and children’s chorus
Producer: Andreas Kam Oliver Auspitz
Director: Robert Dornhelm
Studio: Kultur 4601
Video: 2:35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: Dolby 5.1, 2.0 (not hi-res)
Length: 109 minutes
Extras: Interviews; Behind the Scenes; Trailer; Stills (71 minutes)
The criticism was heavy right from the announcement of this movie; the hottest couple in opera today in a filmed version of what is arguably the most performed opera in the world. The revolution in opera today has really been the plethora of recorded and broadcast performances. It has served to bring opera to the masses in way that no one ever dreamed possible, so the idea of a “filmed” version no longer holds the intrigue that it did years ago. (I remember in the 1970s a lot of talk about the idea of filming operas, but the idea never really caught on.) But director Robert Dornhelm (Sins of the Father, Spartacus, Anne Frank, et al) took up the challenge after hearing who was being cast, and because of his own love for the medium despite the fact that, as the bonus material shows, his views on opera’s viability in general are to my mind rather Luddite in nature, confining it to the category of “its time came and went, no longer viable, and supplemented by the technology available in other media.” Whatever.
But he does have a very keen eye for traditional detail—this Boheme is set in snowy Paris and is exquisitely done—and the camera is freed from its three-sided box and thrust directly into the protagonists’ faces, from all sides. I can’t imagine it being done more effectively, and if one is looking for an opera to introduce people who don’t like opera, this film will do it. What comes as a revelation is how good Netrebko and Villazon are as actors—the camera doesn’t lie, and when it’s nearly into your nostrils all of your facial expressions will be caught and Blu-rayed to the world. These folks and their compatriots in the cast do a superb job of bringing this story to the screen, and right into our living rooms.
But as I have often said, opera, visual though it is, lives and dies in the music, and the performances here are stunning. The BRSO and conductor Billy don’t linger too often—this is an up-paced reading—but when the big moments come, and there are many, the orchestral rush is almost overwhelming, as is the singing, as gorgeous as you are likely to hear.
One of the problems in this work is how to portray the ending—Mimi’s death on camera. I am not going to tell you about it here because I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but trust me; it could not have been done any more effectively, and is extraordinarily moving. I was in tears, and only the hardest of hearts will be immune. This is one Boheme worth every penny, and the sound and visuals are just mind-blowing. (I was surprised the soundtrack was just standard Dolby 5.1 and not DTS-HD 5.1…Ed.)
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.