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La Boheme / ENO / Sky / Jonathan Miller

February 4, 2009

Opera is on the offensive thanks to a blossoming and mutual beneficial relationship between Sky Arts and English National Opera as demonstrated in a live TV event brimming with firsts.

Delayed 48 hours because of London’s heavy snow earlier in the week, opera loving Sky subscribers were able to indulge in a live relay of the opening night of Jonathan Miller’s production of Puccini’s La Boheme, direct from the Coliseum stage in Central London.

Those of us who splashed out on an HD subscription and TV had the added bonus of seeing everything pin sharp too. Opera novices had the option of seeing a separate behind the scenes relay on Sky Arts 1. Shots from the wings, chorus members wandering around backstage and one or two glimpses of the director Jonathan Miller talking to members of the cast. There was something here for everyone.

It was an unexpected indulgence, made even more special because it was mid-week. Such high-brow entertainment surely sits more comfortably on a Saturday night, doesn’t it? For it to be broadcast on a Saturday night would have meant the performance would have been filmed. Those live TV junkies amongst us would have snorted with derision if that had happened. We like our performances live. If we’d wanted a recorded one, we’d have bought a DVD and we certainly wouldn’t be blogging about it if we had.

I’m not an opera fan. I don’t understand it. I recognise the composer’s names and hear the titles of popular operatic works and think I ought to know them. Opera seems like a huge mountain to climb. Something I ought to pay attention to, but am put off by the seemingly considerable commitment.

What makes the difference is a 50” screen, a large glass of red wine, a faultless orchestral performance and some obvious joined-up thinking in terms of broadcasting.

Petroc Trelawney (yes him, the bloke who used to do stuff on Classic FM and now presents BBC Radio 3’s In Tune from time to time) did the front of house stuff from the auditorium interviewing librettist Amanda Holden and director Jonathan Miller. Trelawney was engaging and in no way obtrusive. For the record, Jonathan Miller could have delayed the start of the second half. The man doesn’t get anywhere near enough air-time (assuming he wants it). The man could talk for hours and I wouldn’t bore of hearing him.

Over on Sky Arts 1 Trelawney’s cohort GMTV presenter Penny Smith ferreted around backstage talking to a petrified looking and rather subdued Alfie Boe, coercing interesting titbits about the trials and tribulations of life on an opera production.

I felt comfortable in the company of both her and Mr Trelawney and, surprisingly, didn’t feel as though seeing backstage was shattering the fantasy being created on stage.

To talk about the performance would overlook the importance of this evening. The broadcast was about demonstrating the possibilities of transmitting perceived high-brow entertainment to the masses. For someone who possesses a pompously critical eye for such things, this evening’s performance and broadcast was executed effortlessly. Would it persuade me to book a ticket to the opera? Yes, if it was the chance to see Miller’s production of La Boheme at the Coliseum.

Some might argue that the performers could sing anything, in any key with only scant attention to rhythm and intonation and it still would have been a special occasion.

As a relative newcomer to large scale opera I found myself marvelling at a stylish set and costume design and transfixed by soloists who looked good, sounded brilliant and acted utterly convincing. They held up well on HDTV.

Sweet.

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One Comment
  1. Sounds fantastic. And also the first reason I’ve come across in a dozen years to have Sky.

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