Young penniless couple meet, fall instantly head over heels in love for no reason at all but their dreams are cruelly cut down by her illness and all to some of the most emotionally charged music ever written. So long as the music, libretto and script are adhered to a film version can't go wrong - the director generally sticks to it and doesn't force his own interpretations on us too much. When he does, it works: a restrained use of artistic license. And there's nice imagery, plush backgrounds and clever use of colour. Trouble is, the atmosphere generated by a live performance is lost with a film – the lavish 2008 Met Opera production by Zefferelli recorded with Angela Georghiu and Ramon Vargas had its faults too but imho is preferable to this. We all probably have our own favourite versions of Puccini's most famous opera – mine is the May 1938 complete recording in Milan with Beniamino Gigli as Rodolfo (especially of O Mimi, Tu Piu Non Torni at the beginning of Act 4 - something so beautiful which has not been bettered since the advent of stereo or digital - since the singer was unrepeatable). What's yours? For arguments sake I could also say the legendary Lucrezia Bori's Mimi still resonates well through the acoustic mono hiss from her century-old records.
Netrebko has a fine and well controlled voice, but having seen her repeatedly wallow in a swimsuit to Dvorak's Song To The Moon on the late UK Classic FM TV I still wonder whether she's punching above her weight with operas like La Boheme – incidentally great blood spattered acting in the Met's Lucia Di Lammermoor a few months ago but is she colouratura enough? Her acting for the camera here is also fine, something which is occasionally in doubt when she's performing live – however the rapturous applause from her adoring Met audiences for her various performances this year leave no doubt of her superstardom. Favourite bits from many: O Soave Fancuilla - definitely not bathed in moonlight; Dunque: E Propio Finita in the pouring snow; naturally the climax back in the garret – as suitably tearjerking as it should be. However, this is a film (with minor faults) well worth the time/effort and an admirable vehicle for Anna Netrebko, as it should be. Brava!