Opera director Floris Visser rethinks LA BOHEME for its Glyndebourne debut
Dutch opera director Floris Visser’s production of Puccini’s La bohème opens at the 2022 Glyndebourne Festival on Saturday 11 June. Like all opera directors, Visser faces special challenges when working on such a popular and beloved opera.
Visser explains, “I had to find a way to deal with Puccini’s literalness, and the risk of it becoming sentimental and clichéd, and the many productions that came before us. And present this story of young people learning about life, love and death through a unique and fresh approach.” Visser’s response to these challenges is to radically rethink the setting of the opera and present it in a setting unique while remaining in Paris.
Visser spent more than a week wandering around Paris with his playwright Klaus Bertisch in search of the visual inspiration and spark that would give them entry into their vision of opera. As they were about to admit defeat, they saw: “an iron gate with a street behind it, very simple, paved, like a photo of Brassaï. The street came all the way back and then angled sharply. I saw people moving away and disappearing, like over a bridge. And I looked up and saw the road sign – Passage d’enfer, passage aux enfers. I knew I had my image. Act III takes place at the entrance to the catacombs where the sign still reads: “Arrested! This is the empire of death”. Act III breathes the sudden presence of death and the underworld. This single street embodied our whole idea, and allowed us to merge location, libretto and music into a single image and create a metaphor that will allow us to present this much-loved opera in a new and profound way.”
Death is a constant presence in Visser’s production, a figure following the opera’s heroine Mimi unseen by the other characters. Death opposes life which is represented by Visser’s use of the candle which the heroine of the opera, Mimi, enters the opera wearing: “She comes to Rodolfo for a match, and her whole body and soul are invigorated because she discovers love. She begs Death to spend more time with Rodolfo, and their parting duet in Act III is a desperate ploy to escape Death for as long as possible. Eventually, death takes her, unnoticed by the friends who are talking among themselves.
Jordan de Souza conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra from June 11 with sets by Dieuweke Van Reij and costumes by Jo Floris.
Following its run at the Glyndebourne Festival, the production will transfer to the Glyndebourne 2022 tour this autumn with a new cast. A live recording of the production, shot this summer, will be released on the new Glyndebourne Encore streaming platform in November 2022.
More information at https://www.glyndebourne.com/events/la-boheme/