Maybe opera is not made for film… shit!

So says Rolando Villazón towards the end of the “Making of” documentary that accompanies Robert Dornhelm’s 2008 film of Puccini’s La Bohème.  Fortunately for us Dornhelm, Villazón and the rest of those involved provide another piece of evidence that films of operas can indeed be made, and made very successfully.  This one is a curious hybrid.  It uses just about every technique that I’ve seen used in such a venture.  The whole thing was originally recorded in the studio and most of the film is lip-synched using a mixture of the singers and actors who weren’t art of the singing cast but some of the arias were sung on set to a taped orchestral track.  I’m not sure why and I couldn’t tell which was what.  It all works pretty well anyway.

The film is very cinematic  It was shot in the studio in Vienna using fairly literal sets and costumes and there’s no big concept.  There is though detailed direction, good acting and some interesting cinematography.  At times black and white is used with the singers singing backdrops of historical Parisian street scenes.  In others a few spots of colour are used on an otherwise black and white picture; notably in the dead parrot scene.  Most of the time the cinematography is more straightforward and at times, for example, during Act 3, very beautiful, though no attempt is made to glam up poverty and squalor thank goodness.  The closing shot is stunning.

The performances are very good indeed.  Anna Netrebko sings Mimí and her pre maternal lighter and lighter voiced self is pretty much perfect for the role.  For once, in Acts 3 and 4, we have a Mimí who actually looks like she’s dying from a wasting disease.  She and Villazón have great chemistry.  It’s very evident in the initial encounter in Act 1 and continues through the piece.  It’s as good as their collaboration in the Berlin Manon.  Nicole Cabeli looks and sounds just right as Musetta and the rest of the bohemians; Boaz Daniel doubled by George van Bergen as Marcello, Stéphane Degout doubled by Adrian Eröd as Schaunard and Vatalij Kowaljow as Colline are all perfectly solid.  The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir play with great verve and effect under the baton of Bertrand de Billy.  All in all it’s solidly enjoyable.

The disk package (at least the Region 1 Kultur offering) is bare bones.  The documentation is restricted to a track listing.  There isn’t even a cast list.  Subtitles are English only.  That said there is the very useful “Making of” film (and do watch this right to the end for some hilarious out-takes) and a bunch of interviews and the 2.35:1 picture and Dolby 5.1 sound are perfectly acceptable.

Now with bonus parrot…


4 thoughts on “Maybe opera is not made for film… shit!

  1. Great review, as usual. I haven’t seen this film in a while, but I remember enjoying it. I definitely plan to write my own review of it within the next few months. (Not right now though; the weather in LA is too swelteringly hot for the wintery “Boheme” to fee appropriate to listen to!)

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