Last night a group of us went to see the 'simulcast' of La Bohème broadcast directly from the Royal Opera House. I, personally, came out disappointed. Not, I hasten to add, just because the work was sung (quite correctly) in Italian and the English subtitle system failed - they should have sought the advice of an experienced electronics engineer such as myself! (see below) - and certainly not because the famous tenor playing Rodolpho was down with bronchitis and his part was sung (superbly as far as I can judge) by a young Russian, Dmytro Popov, and absolutely not because the leading lady, Maija Kovalevska as Mimi, looked, despite her elegant beauty, a tad too old for a really young girl, but because . . . because . . . well, it just didn't happen for me, that's why!
I do realise that that first paragraph is not likely to earn me a place in the gallery of distinguished opera critics since it amounts to no more than me opening my mouth and letting my belly rumble and thus disclosing, what you had already suspected, that I know nothing about grand opera. Guilty as charged, m'Lud! But, as I have written many a time and oft' in these columns, art is visceral! It either does the business, that is, raise your emotional temperature - or not. This did, but only on an intermittent basis. The story is simplicity itself - nothing wrong with that - boy meets girl, girl gets sick, love affair sundered under enormous strain, boy and girl get back together, girl dies - and that's it! What few alternative sub-plots that exist are insubstantial and do not catch our attention, let alone our hearts. So, it's all down to Rodolpho and Mimi - and, of course, the music.
The performers, I think, suffered under the withering eye of the cameras in this simulcast. In my piece on Les Miserables I pointed out that if some of the singing might not have been of the absolutely first rate (but it was good enough for me), the acting was. The problem for opera singers is that the very form of their art places huge demands on their singing abilities which leaves them little room - almost literally and physically little room - for them to act. Alas, the prying cameras showed that up where-as, I suspect, were you in the Opera House and viewing from a distance you would not notice it to the same degree. I hasten to make clear that everyone in that performance was trying their best to act, as well as sing, and they very nearly brought it off but with acting, brutal business that it is, you either do or you die!
On the subject of the music, of course, there is the famous duet between the two lovers which most people know and it is truly a lovely and deeply moving piece which haunts the memory. But that's it, or at least, that's it for an opera ignoramus like me. Sorry, Signor Puccini!