Almost 10 years and four revivals after its inception, Jonathan Miller’s light-touch take on the Puccini classic is still doing good business.
It’s no surprise: Miller’s is a stark production that leans in to the swelling and surging of Puccini’s music unashamedly. When there’s a chance for a sudden Coliseum-filling crescendo conductor Alexander Joel goes for it. And why not? In its simplicity, almost austerity, and supported by some stunning voices, Miller re-exposes the beauty of a familiar score.
Each scene is condensed within one little quadrant of the stage, giving the feel of a cheek-by-jowl tenement in Act I, and lending the Momus cafe in Act II a cosy overcrowded feel, a respite from the cold that kills Mimi.
That cold is conjured beautifully by Jean Kalman’s lighting: a hygge-ful fireplace glows inside Isabella Bywater’s two tiered set, which revolves and unfolds from garret to cafe, as Kalman captures the chilly grey winter light outside.
Nadine Benjamin storms the cafe scene as a captivating Musetta flouncing around the joint. As well as her hugely playful performance she has a stunning voice – it’s a treat to hear it employed in this way so soon after, her Clara in Porgy and Bess.
Miller’s production is mostly a cheerful, almost sitcom-esque affair. Jonathan Tetelman’s Rodolfo – his powerful high notes soaring above the orchestra – is a sweet naif, and he forms a comic double act with Nicholas Lester’s Marcello.
Add to that Amanda Holden’s libretto, a really natural rendering of the original that keeps the wit and always aims for a joke. Plus Natalya Romaniw’s Mimi shows no symptoms of her consumption besides a gentle coughing fit the moment before her death.
Yet despite that lightness, maybe even because it’s so sustained, the tragedy when it comes is like a gut-punch. The sight of those four lads bawling their eyes out just moments after they had broken into spontaneous dancing is devastating.