Kizart, Fiebig; Park, Carbó, Parkin; Opera Australia Chorus, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Lü. Production: Edwards. Opera Australia OPOZ56018BD (Blu-ray) and OPOZ56017DVD (DVD), 117 mins., subtitled
Set in early 1930s Berlin, director Gale Edwards's production of La Bohème from the Sydney Opera House is an interesting and, at times, illuminating rethinking of Puccini's most popular work. The concept is aided by Brian Thomson's austere, minimalist sets, which anticipate the end of the Weimar Republic's decadent café culture and the rise of the Third Reich. The focus here is clearly on the characters (i.e., no grandiose Zeffirelli-esque set pieces, though the transition to Café Momus is impressively accomplished), and the intimacy of Sydney's small stage is well suited to this subdued treatment.
As Mimì, Takesha Meshé Kizart is more coy and flirtatious in her cherry-red lip gloss than one might expect or desire, though the all-too-spontaneous scenario in which Mimì introduces herself to Rodolfo in the opera's libretto might well support this interpretation. The primary concern here is Kizart's vocal inconsistency: her chest-dominated lower register in particular seems technically unsound, and she frequently sings under pitch — a characteristic that becomes most pronounced in "Donde lieta uscì." Ji-Min Park's Rodolfo, on the other hand, improves over the course of the performance, and while his rather manic and overacted interpretation is not ideal, his response to Mimì's death in the opera's final moments is powerfully moving.
Taryn Fiebig's Musetta is an engaging and uninhibited vamp resembling a cross between Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich. Riveting in a glitzy, spiderweb-like gown, she delivers a stunning rendition of "Quando me'n vo" into an art deco microphone at Café Momus, both entertaining patrons and eliciting the desired response from jealous Marcello, sung splendidly by the virile, hearty-voiced José Carbó. An ingenious rotating stage allows Fiebig to "work the room" during the aria, flirting with customers at each table while simultaneously playing the scene directly to the audience. In Act III, Musetta's spat with Marcello positively crackles with sexual tension, the brawny Carbó roughly manhandling Fiebig until the two sink into each other's arms and sensually begin to undress each other. As Schaunard, Shane Lowrencev's effete mannerisms and campy, high-energy delivery are well suited to his character's breezy opening monologue, yet he turns appropriately somber when Mimì is on the brink of death. While Lowrencev acts the role well, his aggressive vocal delivery lacks nuance. David Parkin is a rich-toned Colline with a grungy coiffure.
Opera Australia's Blu-ray disc showcases the production's inventive camerawork with a richly detailed image. On the sound front, however, the ultra-close body miking of the singers lends a claustrophobic quality to the audio mix that does not give a realistic impression of how these voices might have resonated in the theater.