Puccini didn’t intend Mimi to be black, but a black Mimi sits well in La Boheme, because the Parisian demi-monde has always been a multiracial affair.
So, in this respect, full marks for the casting of Angel Blue - a Californian ‘former model and beauty queen’ whom Placido Domingo spotted and has been nurturing – as Puccini’s frozen-handed heroine. And Blue has indeed a glorious voice, soaring, sustained, and with bags of power: her duets with David Butt Philip’s gracefully-sung Rodolfo are in musical terms a delight.
But disbelief is hard to suspend, because this Mimi – potentially a superb Turandot, for example - doesn’t do victimhood. Her commanding presence matches the quality of her singing, and you know from her body-language that she’s American: impossible to imagine this regal creature spending her nights humbly embroidering by the light of a guttering candle. Could a cleverer director have remedied this? Jonathan Miller, who created this show, was sitting in the stalls on the first night, and another man was in charge of this revival.
In every other respect this show, with Isabella Bywater’s atmospheric sets and Miller’s pullulating crowds, remains first-rate. Musetta and Marcello (Jennifer Holloway and George von Bergen) quarrel with brio, Colline and Schaunard (Barnaby Rea and George Humphreys) exude youthful raffishness, and Andrew Shore doubles as Benoit and Alcindoro with his customary brilliance.