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
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
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.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments