Monday, June 11, 2012

Unresolvable paradox in Glyndebourne’s modern staging of La Boheme

Musically and dramatically this is a good production. The principals are generally fine and well cast. I enjoyed Ekaterina’s Scherbachenko's Mimi very much - she was utterly convincing physically (not always the case with this role which is NOT one for the fat Diva!) and she has a lovely voice. She also acts well.

The problem with this production is the paradox that the core element of the story line doesn't make sense. La Boheme has at its bleeding heart the tragedy of the illness and demise of Mimi. All the surrounding stories and business is secondary to this core theme. Here, however, we have a retelling of the story in the present day - London rather than Paris  I think (but that's not important). So we have somehow to believe that in a modern caring Welfare State a young woman will die, her failing health untreated, because she is poor? And we also have to believe that her artist friends would not take her to the local A&E even if for some unspecified reason she was reluctant to seek treatment herself! Of course the cynic might say that perhaps the setting is the near future when our Coalition Government has dismantled the Health Service and when the poor will be left to die. But I doubt think that was Director David McVicar's intent at all – anyway the production dates back as far as the year 2000 presumably without too may fundamental changes.

I know that Opera almost more that any other art form demands that we allow artistic licence. But this is actually a very realistic production - the scene in the restaurant, for example, is excellent and quite credible of modern day mores. So if the staging, costumes and back plot works it makes the fact that main plot theme just doesn't all the more obvious. The Opera was written in the 1890s but perhaps set in 1830 because even by the end of the 19th Century it is improbable that a sick young woman would have gone quite so uncared for. In 21st century Western Europe it is inconceivable - so Mimi's tragedy in this staging is unbelievable and an otherwise fine production fails at this crucial hurdle.