Thursday 4 January 2018

La bohème, Deutsche Oper, 29 December 2017

Deutsche Oper, Berlin

Image, Bettina Stöß (2015 revival)

Rodolfo – Lisparit Avetisyan
Schaunard – Dean Murphy
Marcello – Noel Bouley
Colline – Ievgen Orlov
Benoit – Jörg Schörner
Mimì – Dinara Alieva
Musetta – Alexandra Hutton
Parpignol – Ya-Chung Huang
Alcindoro – Peter Maus
Customs Officer – Sam Roberts-Smith 

Götz Friedrich (director)
Gerlinde Pelkowski (revival director)
Peter Sykora (designs)

Children's Chorus (chorus master: Christian Lindhorst) and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper (chorus master: Thomas Richter), Berlin
Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin
Nicholas Carter (conductor)

It was with considerable surprise that I found myself making one final visit of 2017 to the Deutsche Oper. On Christmas Eve, a malfunctioning sprinkler system had flooded the stage, leading to the cancellation of that day’s Nutcracker and a number of subsequent performances. Nevertheless, having clearly worked very hard, the company was able to announce that, from 28 December, performances would resume, albeit ‘halbszenisch,’ which seemed to mean in costume, but without full staging (scenery and so on). When Intendant, Dietmar Schwarz came on to the stage before the performance, it was difficult not to wonder ‘what now?’ However, it was with good news: the scenery would be there; the only real problem now lay with lighting, which would have to be provided by different methods (hence my lack of a lighting credit above).

In the circumstances – goodness knows what, if anything, happened by way of rehearsal – a detailed review would seem beside the point. What I will say is that, insofar as I could tell, the great Götz Friedrich’s 1988 production, here receiving its 118th performance, did not seem especially tired. The cast seemed well directed by revival director, Gerlinde Pelkowski; interaction between the characters on stage proved detailed and convincing, within an overall realist framework. One did not expect the experience of Stefan Herheim’s Oslo staging – still the only one I have seen to offer profound, even life-changing insights – nor the bizarre yet inviting sounding lunar antics of Claus Guth recently in Paris. (How keen I am to see that at some stage!) Herheim’s shadow falls over everything I have seen thereafter, in any case; one does not need to have it in front of one, whether on stage or on screen, to experience again what it tells of death and its agonies.

A good cast offered plenty of opportunity, well taken, for solo and ensemble excellence. Liparit Avetisyan and Dinara Alieva proved a likeable Rodolfo and Mimì. As so often, the Musetta glittered especially bright: this time courtesy of Alexandra Hutton. Dean Murphy’s Schaunard stood out vocally, far from the easiest of tasks in that role. Choral singing was excellent, no allowances needing to be made for ‘circumstances’. And Nicholas Carter’s conducting of the ever excellent Deutsche Oper Orchestra steered a generally judicious balance between what one might broadly term the score’s Wagnerian and Stravinskian tendencies. Above all, though, and without abdicating one’s critical faculties, this was an evening for gratitude to all concerned. It was also an evening for especial gratitude from me, both to the Deutsche Oper and to Berlin. Sad to say, work compels me now to return to the United (sic) Kingdom. I intend to be back as often as possible, and shall be grateful for the rest of my life to the city that offered me refuge from (some of) the worst of British society and politics. London awaits.