The Royal Opera

La Boheme

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Details At A Glance

Category Opera Booklet
Cast and Characters
Main Menu Audio and Animation
Web Link
Year Released 1982
Running Time 117:46 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Selection, then Menu
Region 2,3,4,5,6 Director Brian Large (Video)
NVC Arts
Warner Vision
Starring Ileana Cotrubas
Neil Shicoff
Thomas Allen
Marilyn Zschau
Gwynne Howell
John Rawnsley
Case Super Jewel Case
RPI $39.95 Music Giacomo Puccini

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Original Aspect Ratio Full Frame
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

Plot Synopsis

    And so for a bit of a change, I move away from the operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to one of the crowning achievements of Giacomo Puccini. It is a distinctly different style of opera too, Mozart's tending to be a little lighter and less serious than those of Puccini. I cannot say in all honesty that La Boheme is an opera that I truly enjoy, but it is blessed with some great arias and none greater than O soave fanciulla which concludes Act 1. In the hands of a great cast this is an opera that does shine and over the years there have been some terrific recordings: none more so than that starring the magnificent Victoria de los Angeles and Jussi Bjorling, that even today is a benchmark against which all Bohemes are compared. Unfortunately, this is not within a bull's roar of that effort.

    The broad synopsis of this opera is two Bohemians living in Paris, Rodolfo and Marcello, the poet and the painter. It is Christmas Eve and it is not a night of celebration for the pair as they shiver in their cold Parisian attic. With no money, no food and no heat, this will be a bleak time for the pair - at least until their friends Colline and Schaunard turn up. Schaunard has money and food and wants to share his good fortune from a job with his friends. They agree to head off to the Latin Quarter to indulge in the excitement there. However, before Rodolfo leaves, his next door neighbour Mimi arrives on the doorstep looking for someone to relight her candles (no, really). Rodolfo has been an admirer for an age and takes the opportunity to put a move on Mimi, who declares her love for him. The happy couple head off to the Latin Quarter to join their friends at a restaurant. Enjoying the evening, the fun is interrupted by the appearance of Musetta, a former flame of Marcello's. Determined to force him to renew their relationship, she eventually succeeds. We now jump forward a few months and Marcello and Musetta are still together, eking out an existence at a tavern near one of the gates into Paris. Mimi turns up seeking out Marcello to enlist his help in her on-again/off-again relationship with Rodolfo. She knows he loves her, but seems to shy away from her with jealousy. Marcello connives to get Rodolfo to express his true feelings whilst Mimi hides nearby to hear all. However, it is not a great evening as Mimi resolves to terminate the relationship, whilst Marcello breaks up with Musetta. The final act sees us jumping forward again and Rodolfo and Marcello are back at the attic trying to eke out a living when all of a sudden Musetta returns with a seriously-ill Mimi in tow. Whilst their friends attempt to get a doctor, Mimi dies in the arms of Rodolfo having confessed their true love for each other.

    It actually sounds a lot worse than it really is! It is a well-conceived opera, with the libretto coming from Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, that has plenty of opportunities for the cast to strut their stuff. Unfortunately it does in my opinion require a strong cast to really make this opera shine and we simply do not have that here. Whilst none of the cast are anything less than good, they simply lack enough distinctiveness to really drag this effort out of the middling road than it runs in. The best here are probably Marilyn Zschau as Musetta, who really does a good job of capturing the vixen-like nature of the character, and Thomas Allen as Marcello, the poor target of her desires (for now). The opera really revolves around Rodolfo and Mimi and these two characters make or break any production. Neil Shicoff is decent enough as Rodolfo but really does not make me sit up and take notice. Similarly Ileana Cotrubas as Mimi is good, but not anywhere near the sort of quality that a Victoria de los Angeles brings to the role.

    It simply boils down to the fact that this is a good effort, but does not really get out of pedestrian mode, and that at the end of the day is what hampers the enjoyment here. Well, that and a very poor transfer.

Transfer Quality


    This was recorded in 1982 and to be blunt, it shows every one of those eighteen intervening years in every frame of this video transfer. This is not a good transfer at all.

    The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The main problem with the transfer is simply that for extended periods of time, the focus is borderline shocking. Not just by being mostly subtly out of focus, but by the odd descent into virtually non-existent focus, so much so that in the final analysis the transfer is best described as moderately diffuse, without any real distinction and without any real definition at all. Indeed, so poor at times is the transfer that there is no depth of field at all to the video. It is further compounded by some noticeable problems with grain at times that does become just a tad too obvious to ignore. As you may have gathered, this is not a transfer of great clarity. Shadow detail is not great at all, and there does appear to be some low level noise problems in the transfer. This really is one very tired-looking effort.

    The colours here are quite seriously undersaturated and lacking any sort of distinction at all. Sometimes the palette is so poor that the foreground singers start to blend into the background sets! This is not a vibrant transfer at all and the whole image really ends up being quite flat in appearance. With the prevalence of undersaturation, the resultant colourscape is anything but natural-looking. There is no colour bleed problem to worry about here. About the best thing that can be said about the colour is the fact that it is at least extremely consistent throughout the programme.

    There appeared to be some regular problems with MPEG artefacts in the transfer, most notably some blockiness in the picture. A good example is around the 102:50 mark, but the last fifteen minutes of the DVD in general demonstrate some rather noticeable problems with this sort of artefact. There was a rather consistent problem with aliasing in the transfer. Nothing really serious, but distinctly noticeable once it catches your eye. Other than that, though, there was not a significant problem with film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. There was almost a complete absence of film artefacts in the transfer.

    This is a single layer, single sided DVD, and that really may be the reason why this is such a comparatively poor-looking effort: there is simply not enough space to do a good job of compression. I cannot help but feel that if this had been an RSDL-formatted DVD, many of the noted problems would have been far less of an issue.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is just the one audio track on this DVD, an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. This is of course the correct language for the opera. There really is not any great improvement in this aspect of the DVD, either.

    This is a quite unusually balanced soundtrack, with the instruments being at far too high a level compared with the vocals. The result is that the vocals are not very clear in the overall soundtrack, making it on occasions just a little difficult to hear them over the orchestra. Not an ideal way to listen to opera, believe me!

    Audio sync did not appear to be a problem with the soundtrack.

    It is something of a pity that we only have a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack on offer here, as the result is a rather congested sound that really does not bloom at all. This needed a lot more air so as to allow the vocals room to strut their stuff. This is one of those occasions where a 5.1 soundtrack is sadly missed, as this is strictly stereo stuff, meaning there is no surround channel use at all and the marvellous opportunities for ambience through the rear channels go completely begging. You can forget the bass channel here. I am presuming that we only got the one soundtrack due to the whole package pushing the limit of the DVD-5 format, which is a great shame. A nicely mastered 5.1 soundtrack could really have been used here. At least the soundtrack is free of distortion, but this is really not a great soundtrack for a medium that so relies upon its sound.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    And this is where we get the backward step after the improvements shown by Don Giovanni. No libretto, not even through a weblink? Very poor indeed.


    Some minor audio and animation enhancement certainly helps, but really they are not that much to write home about.

Cast and Characters

    Actually just a single page listing of the cast and the roles they sing. This could really have been, and should really have been, so much more.


    Provides a quite reasonable synopsis of the opera in five languages, which at least gives a guide to the opera in the absence of a full libretto printout.


    A very brief synopsis is provided in the chapter selection menu if you do not feel like getting the booklet out of the super jewel case.

Web Link

    An automated link to the NVC Arts website for those with a DVD-ROM drive.

R4 vs R1

    This particular version of the opera is not available in Region 1 as far as I can determine.


    La Boheme is a great opera by all accounts, but you would not know it from this DVD. Poorish video accompanied by poorish sound is guaranteed to bury any opera DVD, and so it does here. I cannot help but feel that the decision to produce this on a DVD-5 rather than a DVD-9 has seriously compromised the finished product. In all honesty, I would wait to see if we get blessed with a better version of the opera than this.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
25th September 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL