La Boheme: The Film
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Giacomo Puccini's immortal opera, in a high budget feature-film version directed by Academy Award nominee Robert Dornhelm, stars opera's 'Golden Couple', Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko as the protagonists, Rodolfo and Mimi. The chemistry between them is electric, unrivalled in the theatre today. Russian soprano Anna Netrebko is not only beautiful but has a marvelous voice and technique; Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon, has a wonderful voice and an incredible charisma. The excellent bonus features include fascinating interviews with all the key performers and the director, who confirms that he not only wanted to remain steadfastly faithful to Puccini's design but also document two of the leading singers of the modern age rather than embarking on a 'trendy' contemporary re-creation.
'Breathtakingly dramatic and emotional... full to the brim with some of the best vocal talents of today... director Robert Dornhelm has not only managed to stay true to Puccini's story, but has also succeeded in adding another exciting and dynamic dimension to the opera' --Opera Now Magazine
'lavishly detailed... Dornhelm translated the opera to the screen with imaginative, occasionally arty, touches... [Villazon's] singing is glorious.' --Sunday Times
'chocolatey richness directly into the vein' --The Guardian
Behind the scenes of La Boheme
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I bought this, because I like the combination of Villazón and Netrebko. I saw them, together, in the Met's presentation of La Bohème, which I found excellent.
Let's start with the failures. First, the film is lip synched. The lip synching, especially in Villazón's "Che Gelida Manina," is so bad that, at times, his lip motions don't even come close to the words allegedly pouring out. There are only minor lip synch errors, throughout the rest of the film. Second, when Mimi is singing her "Si, mi chiamano Mimi," she's moving and looking all over the place, including on the internal staircase to the roof, when she should be facing and singing, directly, to Villazón. While the quality of the photography is excellent, it's direction leaves much to be desired. The constant zoom-ins, zoom-outs, split screens and cuts are, at best, annoying and amateurish.
Netrebko's red, velvet dress, in the scene when she first enters the garret, is completely out of place, for a poor girl. The quality and style are totally inconsistent and way above the level which would be believable, for a young girl, who works, as an embroiderer of flowers, in a sweat shop type factory.
Because of the poor lip synching, I could not recommend this, as anyone's first viewing of this opera but, for those of us familiar with it, you may want to add it to your collection.
Now, for the positives: The quality of the singing is absolutely fabulous. Villazón and Netrebko are in perfect form. Villazón is so drawn and almost emaciated, in this film, that he makes the part of a staving poet/playwright absolutely believable. The role of Marcello, which is normally assigned to a second stringer, was sung excellently.
This version is, also, the first time I've seen Musetta and Mimi properly portrayed. Too often, Musetta is portrayed an nothing more than an innocent flirt. She is the local trollop, who will gladly fill the bed of any male who is willing to keep her. Unfortunately, for her, she is, also, conflicted, by her deep and passionate love, for Marcello. The voice of Nicole Cabelle, as Musetta, is, also, excellent and, hopefully, we'll see more of her, in strong roles.
Some folks have suggested that the bed scene may not be appropriate. I disagree. Mimi is not a naive, innocent, young girl. She was conceived, by Puccini, as an ill-educated, poor, unwell, hard, street-reared and street smart young woman, with an attitude of "live life, while I can." Her depiction, here, is perfect, not harsh, inappropriate or incorrect.
The combination of the perfect singing, with the properly portrayed characterizations, make this a keeper.
Robert Dornhelm's film of "La Bohème" is amazingly good. As a favourite opera, I've seen and heard many versions, and did not really expect to find anything "new" in this one. How wrong I was! At first viewing, it seemed as if I caught my breath at the start and didn't let it go until the last note died with Mimi.
The sets are realistic and evocative of the time period and the changing seasons that underline the story. The attention to little details is wonderful ... the rough table manners of the hungry men, the way Rodolfo fusses over the faint Mimi, his visible "gulp" as her closeness begins to affect him, the good natured teasing he receives from the others at Momus, the warming of Mimi's medicine in the final scene.
Anna Netrebko's singing is just glorious. Her Mimi is different from most - ill she may be, but she is certainly not helpless or emotionally fragile. This is a girl who probably knows she doesn't have a long future, and is therefore determined to make the most of every day. She initiates the "candle" episode, and when love comes, she seizes it.
The Rodolfo of Rolando Villazón is a young man caught in a whirlwind of unexpected events - the almost unbelievable coming of love to his life, the inevitable possessiveness, the torment of his inability to save Mimi's life with his love, the ultimate despair. He looks the part, acts the part superbly, and his wonderful voice carries his heart (and mine!) on its waves.
This film was my first experience of the compelling artistic partnership of Mr Villazón and Ms Netrebko, and I can certainly see why they received such acclaim. "O Soave Fanciulla" simply took my breath away ... and from the director's comments in the bonus documentary, that reaction was not unique to me.
The supporting cast members are likewise believable in every way - I was especially impressed with the Musetta of Nicole Cabell. Her allure is achieved with subtle nuances of expression rather than "in-your-face" brashness ... an interesting and very appealing interpretation which reveals an underlying depth not often seen in the character of Musetta until the final scene.
The bonus documentary is excellent - including "behind the scenes", and insightful interviews with director and cast. It enables us to see firsthand the challenges of creating a successful operatic story when filming the scenes devoid of a live audience, orchestra and stage.
A professional reviewer in an Australian arts magazine recently labelled this "the finest opera film of the last two decades". I agree with him.
The sets, the lighting, the costumes and the incredibly imaginative, artistic cinematography ..... Puccini would be very proud of every aspect of this work of art.