La Bohème, Puccini’s tale of the Bohemian life, has been updated to the 1950s and one suspects that this is more in the interests of saving costume budgets than giving a new perspective.
The lives and loves of Rodolfo, Mimi, Marcello and Musetta certainly seem just as credible in the new setting, but nothing is added by the change, and the shoe-string aspect is very evident in the single set that is pressed into use for every scene.
For those who aren’t already familiar with the opera it must be confusing. Having closed Act II on Christmas Eve at the café Momus, with Musetta in her fetching black basque, what do we see at the opening of Act III – which occurs a month later, in a tavern near the city gate, at dawn – but an apparently identical scene, and Musetta still in her basque. If money is really that tight, perhaps ENO should have revived the excellent production they already had.
There is one reason to see this version: Mary Plazas as Mimi is touching, believable (she even has tiny hands) and sings like an angel. After winning the Kathleen Ferrier prize in 1991 she has rapidly expanded her horizons and is certainly one to watch. Her Rodolfo is John Hudson – a pleasant voice but a little lacking in strength.
Ashley Holland and Elizabeth Woollett are good sparring partners as Marcello and Musetta, though the latter’s ability to create a good scene outshone her voice. The orchestra was in fine form under Mark Shanahan, but altogether a slightly lacklustre evening.