La Bohème, Robert Dornhelm, (115 mins)
The Full Monteverdi, John La Bouchardière, (60 mins)

Another brave director takes a stab at transferring Puccini's tragic masterpiece to celluloid, with mixed results

Can grand opera ever work at the movies? As shorthand for passion, obsession or sophistication, it has played a useful supporting role in everything from art house to horror.

Sung by Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny, lampooned by the Marx Brothers and Danny Kaye, it has proved a great subject for comedy. Yet with the exception of Ingmar Bergman's jewel-box film of The Magic Flute, and the offbeat extrapolations of Derek Jarman, Nicolas Roeg, Robert Altman, Ken Russell, Bruce Beresford and Jean-Luc Godard in Don Boyd's Aria, opera has almost always looked false on film.

It's curious that two art forms so adept at enchantment have failed to form a stronger relationship. One hundred and 16 years ago, Thomas Edison predicted that synchronised sound and vision would bring opera to a man's parlour. And Edison was partly right. We now have some astonishing records of staged productions on DVD. But imagine an Almodovar L'Heure espagnole, a Brothers Quay Fairy Queen, a Terence Davies Eugene Onegin, a Scorsese Fanciulla del West. Though Woody Allen, Abbas Kiarostami and Sofia Coppola are directing operas, they're not directing them for the cinema. Whether flirting with real time and real locations (Giuseppe Patroni Griffi's 1992 Tosca), juxtaposing footage of the recording sessions with live action (Benoît Jacquot's 2001 Tosca) or sprinkling Mozart with CGI (Kenneth Branagh's 2006 The Magic Flute), opera on film has progressed remarkably little since Joseph Losey's Don Giovanni (1979).

Robert Dornhelm, director of the latest version of La Bohème, would have been wise to study a little cinema history before filming Puccini's opera. Back in 1932, Max Ophüls insisted that the sound for his film of The Bartered Bride was recorded outdoors to match the on-screen ambience. Here, alas, we have a lip-synched Bohème, filmed in Vienna and performed by a cast of which six members were not even involved in the original studio recording. With minimal technical flourishes from director of photography Walter Kindler – the film slides between colour and black and white – Dornhelm has produced what is in effect a lavishly dressed pop video for Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon's Deutsche Grammophon recording with Bertrand de Billy and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The sound is lush, with just a touch too much gloss, and inappropriate to either the palatial garret in which Rodolfo (Villazon) and Mimi (Netrebko) meet or the snowy exterior where they vow to part. Despite the lithe tempi and persuasive voices, this is a cautious and fatally touristic Bohème in which Paris looks like the set for a lager advertisement, and the counterpoint between the central romance and that between Marcello (George von Bergen, with the voice of Boaz Daniel) and Musetta (Nicole Cabell) acquires an unusually cynical tone. Falling out of her dress and into bed with Rodolfo in the final bar of their first duet, Netrebko's glamorous Mimi seems disconnected until Act III and inattentive to Villazon, whose ardent performance has not been toned down for the camera. For those who have yet to see them live, the DVD of Willy Decker's Salzburg production of La traviata is a far more revealing document of both.

No CGI snowflakes, no big names, no period costumes. It's reasonable to assume that the budget for The Full Monteverdi was considerably smaller than that for La Bohème. But John La Bouchardière's adaptation of his own present-day staging of Monteverdi's Fourth Book of Madrigals with I Fagiolini had a poignancy that only those who have married their childhood sweetheart and lived happily ever after would fail to recognise. It's an odd, intrusive and troubling thing to watch 19 songs of acute despair tumble from the mouths of six seemingly ordinary, 21st-century people as their back stories silently unfold, and odder still to watch those who are listening to them react to what they hear: the bullied wife, the fiancée who has found out about the affair, the lover who has promised to leave his family but doesn't, the husband who cheats on a pregnant wife, the boyfriend who doesn't want children ....

Shot in a series of unremarkable flats and streets, at restaurant tables and in toilet cubicles, with mascara, snot, baby bellies, wrinkles, receding hairlines and all the accoutrements of experience exposed, this was an exceptionally well-crafted, thoughtful film, beautifully sung and very bravely acted. Verismo, indeed.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?