Puccini: La boheme - Luhrmann (DVD)

ABC Classics & Jazz
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David Hobson, Cheryl Barker, Opera Australia, Baz Luhrmann

Baz Luhrmann, the director of "Moulin Rouge," and his Academy Award-winning creative team including designers Catherine Martin and Bill Marron, bring you this compelling and artful reworking of the legendary Puccini opera. Recorded live from the Sydney Opera House, this unabashedly romantic interpretation uses the post-war setting of 1950s Paris to capture the youthfulness and intensity of the story with raw sincerity. Cheryl Barker and David Hobson head an ensemble production as Mimi and Rodolfo, whose dramatic and ultimately tragic romance anchors an unforgettable musical journey. Conducted by Julian Smith.

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"It might be possible to know this La Bohème and not love it, but I have never met anyone who felt that way. "Oh yes," said a friend, "that's the good one where everybody is the right age." The youth and freshness of the singers are, in fact, major assets in this production. Youthful high spirits and vulnerability are delicately portrayed, with sharp contrasts between the Parisian bohemians' abject poverty and their carefree lifestyle. On DVD, La Bohème is the work where the competition is strongest. Solid arguments can be made for the staging of the Metropolitan Opera production or the vocal quality of the San Francisco production, but the Australian Opera offers the closest identification of performers with the characters they represent. The effect is usually touching, sometimes downright electrifying.

For this production, the story is moved up to Paris in the 1950s. A veneer of existentialism, a sense of the absurd, can be detected in the young men's lifestyle, but the implicit message is that, even with electricity (e.g., a massive neon sign celebrating "L'Amour"), bohemian life in the 1950s was essentially unchanged from the 1830s. There are good performances throughout, particularly by David Hobson (Rodolfo) and Cheryl Barker (Mimi), and the direction of Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge) is outstanding." - Joe McLellan