Wait, does Mimì have corona? The thought involuntarily flashes through your mind as soprano Zinzi Frohwein stands on stage coughing and her neighbor Rodolfo anxiously asks if she’s okay. But that’s cool, of course, it’s tuberculosis that reigns supreme in 19th-century operas. Although that 19th-century context is completely invisible in the staging of the pocket version of Puccini’s La Boheme with which the Nederlandse Reisopera opens its season. Recognition and proximity have priority in this 2011 production. So no nostalgic Parisian bohemian romance, no falling snowflakes or flickering candles, but a simple and completely black decor. The color must come from the poems and paintings that the young artists have hung on the walls and from the characters themselves.
Such a pocket version does not only mean a drastic shortening. This performance lasts a mere seventy-five minutes without intermission, but also has minimal instrumental accompaniment. Percussionist Niek Kleinjan is an added value to David Parry’s piano accompaniment, so you don’t have the feeling of being at a piano rehearsal. At a certain point, the effect of a swelling drum roll at a musical climax is a bit trite, but Parry and Kleinjan get the most out of their part. They cannot be blamed for missing the embrace of an orchestra. It must be quite difficult at such a distance and without a conductor to form a unity with the singers, but that works fine too.
Also read: Opera in pocket form certainly has a future at Reisopera
The advantage of such a brief musical accompaniment is that the vocals get all the spotlight. Zinzi Frohwein sings a beautifully lovable Mimì, and you can totally believe the love between her and Denzil Delaere with his supple slender tenor. Gurgen Baveyan delivers a powerful Marcello: to fall in love with. He is a nice couple with Gloria Giurgola’s radiant Musetta.
The direction sometimes shows some weaknesses (always the same painting by Marcello is destroyed in fits of anger and later glued together). But at the important moments, the staging supports the simplicity of the most beautiful scenes. So it is clear from the start that this opera is ideally suited for a stripped performance. It is also a simple story, not about gods or princes, but about such worries as lack of money and jealousy, flirting and arguing, infatuation and illness. Ordinary. Like any life. The focus on the personal drama, stripped of frills, does not make such a stripped-down version bare but extra pure.