La Bohème review – Death stalks Puccini’s lovers at Glyndebourne

Glyndebourne, Sussex
Floris Visser’s new production puts a dark spin on this story of doomed lovers – which only heightens the life-affirming vibrancy of the music

‘We’ll part when the flowers appear,” sing Mimì and Rodolfo at the end of act three, putting off the break-up they have now accepted as inevitable. There’s nothing in Puccini’s music to dampen the audience’s fond hope that they’ll work things out in the meantime and live happily ever after. But in Floris Visser’s new La Bohème, there is a chill to these words – because the flowers are already appearing, sickly pink against the monochrome set, uncovered by the tall, gaunt figure who has been shadowing consumptive Mimì since before she stepped into Rodolfo’s life.

Death is not in Puccini’s cast list. But in Visser’s production, which plays on any number of film references from The Seventh Seal to Meet Joe Black, he is on stage so much that it’s almost a surprise that he doesn’t get the final curtain call. Can the others see him? Mimì can, once she accepts her illness; Rodolfo can’t, yet he glances over his shoulder as if he senses something is there. The opera becomes something other than – arguably more than – a story of youth and doomed love. And Visser’s gamble pays off: it is riveting.

Yaritza Véliz (Mimì) and Sehoon Moon (Rodolfo) in La Bohème.
Yaritza Véliz (Mimì) and Sehoon Moon (Rodolfo) in La Bohème. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

It helps that Christopher Lemmings is such a magnificently magnetic presence, silent except for when he assumes the brief role of Parpignol, the toy-seller whose half-dozen notes usually go almost unnoticed; here he is doling out red balloons that you suspect might have strings infused with cholera. Those balloons are a rare spot of colour against the black and grey of Jon Morrell’s costumes and Dieuweke Van Reij’s set, a blank-walled street stretching back into dark nothingness.

Against this, the life-affirming vibrancy of Puccini’s music strikes one more directly than ever, even if Visser missteps occasionally – making Rodolfo fiddle with a recalcitrant typewriter during a soaring phrase of his aria, for example. Yaritza Véliz sings Mimì with a white-gold, charged soprano. Sehoon Moon’s incisive tenor suits blase Rodolfo (Long Long, who should have been singing but fell victim to the visa delays that are plaguing UK classical music at the moment, takes over from the third performance). And Vuvu Mpofu is an irresistibly stylish Musetta.

Jordan de Souza conducts the London Philharmonic, and it’s as if all the colour that has been leached from the stage is brimming over the edge of the pit. It’s not only love that is defiant in the face of death, but music, too.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Madama Butterfly/Der Rosenkavalier review – Glyndebourne openers perplex, provoke and charm
Annilese Miskimmon’s stripped-back Puccini update and an admirable but uneven Strauss revival opened this year’s summer festival

Tim Ashley

21, May, 2018 @11:36 AM

Article image
La Bohème review – seamy pre-war Paris styles this winning autumn revival
Puccini’s tragic tale is given an expressionist and strikingly stark setting in this touring production that features a wonderful young cast, particularly Bekhzod Davronov’s heartbreaking Rodolfo

Tim Ashley

10, Oct, 2022 @11:29 AM

Article image
La Bohème review – exuberant and persuasive revival performed with elan
Conductor Emmanuel Villaume brings drive and intensity to Richard Jones’s detailed but inconsistent production of Puccini’s brilliantly written opera

Martin Kettle

13, Jan, 2020 @3:51 PM

Arts Diary, Charlotte Higgins: Glyndebourne lovers set a date

Charlotte Higgins: The diary is incredibly excited about the impending nuptials of Gus Christie, executive chairman of Glyndebourne, and Danielle de Niese

Charlotte Higgins

25, Feb, 2009 @12:01 AM

Article image
La Bohème review – Scottish Opera's Covid-safe Puccini is a triumph
Scottish Opera’s witty, colourful and superbly sung production manages to capture the spirit of the piece while sticking to the social-distancing rules

Rowena Smith

07, Sep, 2020 @1:39 PM

La Bohème – review

Annabel Arden captures the atmosphere of artistic Paris in an energetic staging of Puccini's opera, says Rian Evans

Rian Evans

03, Jun, 2012 @5:15 PM

Article image
Rehearsing La Bohème at Opera North
Director Michael Barker-Caven on rehearsals for Opera North's revival of Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème

29, Apr, 2014 @10:00 AM

Glyndebourne by numbers

As the Glyndebourne Festival celebrates its 75th birthday, we provide the essential figures

Ally Carnwath

16, May, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
La Bohème – review

A young cast adds credibility to David McVicar's 11-year-old staging, which returns in fine fettle for Glyndebourne on Tour, writes George Hall

George Hall

13, Oct, 2011 @5:17 PM

Article image
Pelléas et Mélisande review – crashing symbols overpower doomed lovers
The many layers of Stefan Herheim’s staging prove detaching distractions from the twisted mystery of the Debussy tragedy

Andrew Clements

01, Jul, 2018 @1:03 PM