Thanks to Medici TV we were able to watch a live broadcast performance of Puccini’s La Boheme from the Opera Bastille in Paris.

German stage director Claus Guth has buried Puccini’s story beneath at least three other plots and stories, none of which have anything to do with the Bohemians of Paris at the end of the nineteenth century. The dominant story is an episode of tv’s Lost in Space, in which Astronaut Rodolfo is dying on a doomed space mission and hallucinating while, for some reason, Puccini’s music is played and sung. The characters still talk about paintings, the stove, the manuscript, the candle, cigars, but none of the items ever appear. That would, I guess, be too bourgeois for such an avant-garde director.

Mimi shows up somehow in the red dress left over from Willy Decker’s brilliant and deeply moving La Traviata. Juggling and acrobatic waiters appear, once carrying the corpse of a dead astronaut who served as the “landlord” puppet. Musette also shows up to sing her famous waltz as a striptease pole dance. An illuminated dragon, perhaps left backstage from a Magic Flute, is brought across the stage at one point. And, because this production is “psychologically deep and symbolic”, everyone must have a doppelganger. Marcel Marceau’s Bip the Clown even shows up, probably representing something every significant production needs – “death,” as conceived by Las Vegas.

Nothing has anything whatsoever to do with anything else on stage.

If my reaction means I am now a Philistine, then sign me up.

The French Academy used to rule on literary and linguistic matters. They need to broaden their authority: meet in an emergency session to banish Claus Guth from ever going within 500 yards of any theater building on this or any other planet.

Much of the audience booed the production, but not the singers, with enthusiastic contempt, thank God, restoring my faith in a shrinking, segment of humanity.

The audience was certainly most upset at not being able to appreciate the glorious voices singing the major roles. Instead, Claus Guth’s staging caused everyone to focus instead on  figuring out what the latest visual had to do with what was being sung.

This production was totally unfair to the singers, especially  Brazil’s  Attala Ayan as Rodolfo and Australia’s Nicole Car as Mimi, substituting for the, no doubt, “ill” Sonya Yoncheva. Their wonderful voices were relegated to second place behind the puffed-up director’s overwhelming hubris.

Vanity with brilliance can be acceptable. Vanity with stupidity never is, even when one bandies the names Tarkovsky and Kubrick about.

This is my candidate, not only for the worst opera production ever, but for the worst production ever on a theater stage.




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