Call it a chestnut or a war horse, if you must, in order to polish your sophistication credentials. “La Bohème,” done well, is some of the most moving music on an opera stage. It is hard to imagine anything more beautiful to listen to than James Conlon’s interpretation of Puccini’s masterpiece and the well matched cast currently at the Dorothy Chandler.
The current production is imported from the Komische Oper Berlin. Conceived by Barrie Kosky, whose “Magic Flute” is a masterpiece of creativity and modern interpretation of a classic which fortunately will play again in Los Angeles later this season. Sounds good, no? That is what I thought. Sadly, Kosky’s Bohème staging does little to illuminate or enhance Puccini’s masterpiece.
Typically, Bohème is produced with literal scenes of turn of the last century Paris and the attic the young principals live in. No, it is not exciting, but hey, it tells the story and can be very pleasant. Kosky has decided that the setting could use a reboot. Marcello (Kihun Yoon) should be a photographer, shooting daguerreotype photos with a large format camera. Now, that is a strange choice if he wants to modernize the scene. Daguerreotype was passé by the time Bohème premiered in 1896, yet Kosky has draped the backdrop with faded daguerreotype images. Even from the twelfth row, it took reading the program to discern what the squares were.
Despite the vast Chandler stage, the attic scenes are cramped on a small platform resembling a root cellar, more than an attic. The four roommates try valiantly to romp in the opening scene, but it is hard to do when the edge of the platform is close at hand. As a Berkeley undergrad I lived in an 1895 attic and can tell you, Kosky does not know his old attics. But back to business.
Victoria Behr’s costumes are a mixed bag. They range from Musette’s vaguely Victorian to Mimi’s Doc Marten’s. Whatever.
The Café Momus scene is a constantly turning set with the Los Angeles Children’s Choir jumping up and down in the foreground. Why? I cannot answer that. I could go on, but enough.
This review is based on the third performance by this cast. By this point in the run the cast and the orchestra are perfection. Perhaps the best way to view this season’s “La Bohème” is with closed eyes. The sound will envelop you and you will waste little effort trying to figure out why are they doing that? The romance is palpable. The sound is perfection.