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Celebrating José Cura--Singer, Conductor, Director




Operas:  La bohème

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The Bohemians Return to Stockholm



“A roaring success…” – Financial Times


“Imaginative, with good humor and a lot of charm….” SvD


     “Nordic Bohemians convinces…”  SvD





Watch the original cast and José Cura discuss the opera and production






Be sure to follow José Cura on his official Face Book page as he treats all of us to his behind the scene director thoughts on his La bohème.





In the 19th century, Scandinavia produced some of its greatest cultural achievements. Grieg, Sibelius, Strindberg, Ibsen, Andersen, Kierkegaard, Krohg, Munch, among many. It was a golden age of creativity.

 In 1885, Hans Jæger, a very influential intellectual personality of those days, publishes the novel Kristiania-bohêmen. The novel, set in Kristiania (early Oslo), narrates the everyday life of two friends who live in lodgings and spend their days in cafes, discussing philosophy, literature and society reforms. The book was a scandal for that time, so much so, that Jæger ended up in prison. Later on, the same Jæger, together with a bunch of radical, anarchist fellows, would found the Kristiania-bohêmen group. Eduard Munch was part of it.


  In June 2012, the RSO invited me to direct and design Bohème for the 2015/16 season. I was walking through Gamla Stan, when I raised my head and I saw that the light at the top window of that beautiful red building, which is almost an iconographic postcard of Stockholm, was on. This room could have been the Bohemians attic, I thought. Why not placing my Boheme in Gamla stan? But to do so, I needed stronger arguments than just some light at the top floor of an old building…


  GENESIS (continues)

Being an admirer of August Strindberg since the time I performed Miss Julie’s servant, Jan, almost 25 years ago, I started to think that using him to inspire my Rodolfo was not such a bad idea. But how to justify it? I went to his house in center Stockholm, searching for clues. There I was when, taking advantage of a moment in which there was nobody around, I sat on his bed… Imagine my shock when, across the room, protected by a crystal door, I saw a book which cover read “À Boheme Suedoise” … I had no idea what that book referred to, but the coincidence was too big. Maybe it was August trying to tell me something. Investigating the Strindberg/Bohemian connection, I got to know that in 1879, August Strindberg, published "Röda rummet” (The red room), a satire of Stockholm’s society. The novel narrates the adventures of a young idealistic civil servant called Arvid Falk, who quits his job at the public administration to become a journalist and an author. Seeking for twin souls, Arvid encounters a group of bohemians, whose meetings to discuss about politics, theatre, philanthropy and business matters, take place in a red dining room in Berns Salonger. Even if any resemblance between Arvid Falk, August Strindberg and Puccini's "Rodolfo" is a mere coincidence, I was convinced to have found the “concept” for my Bohème production: Hans Jæger’s Kristiania-bohêmen, with Eduard Munch as one of its leading figures, would allow the conflictive personality of the Norwegian painter “to possess” Puccini’s Marcello, and Strindberg’s Boheme Suedoise, would be the inspiration for Rodolfo’s portray. It was much later that I decided to go even further and change the names in the score… The aim was not to make a biographical production, which is impossible considering that the text and music in Puccini’s master piece does not fit all of Munch and Strindberg’s traces of character, but to to borrow the idea of a truly existed bohemian movement in 19th century Scandinavia, to inspire the dramaturgy.

(Photo: at Strindberg's house, sitting on his bed, looking across the room into his library)


         José Cura (official)

One of the first things to do, as soon as the rehearsal's started, was to make everybody understand that I didn't want to do yet another Boheme where the character's behave in a cartoonish way... For that, I needed to fill in their heads with some "Munchian/Strindberghian" mood... So off we went to visit the Tilska gallery and then Strindberg's house (where I took the picture in the previous post).


The company, from top left:

 Daniel (Rodolfo/Strindberg),

 Linus (Marcello/Munch),

 Jens (Schaunard/Grieg),

 Anders (Alcindoro/Kollemann),

 Niklas (Benoit),

 John Erik (Colline/Kierkegaard),

 Yana (Mimi),

 Sanna (Musetta/Tulla Larsen)






Christmas Eve. It is freezing cold in the garret where the young writer Augusto Strindberg and his mate, the painter Edoardo Munch live. Sitting at the piano, a promising composer called Edoardo Grieg, is drafting melodies. Munch is struggling to finish one of his famous paintings: the Vampire (picture 1).

All of a sudden, the actress engaged to impersonate Munch’s obsession with red haired women, tired of the painter’s hesitations, demands her payment. But Munch has not a penny. She throws her wig at him and leaves the room in anger. Strindberg and Munch remain alone complaining about the cold, when Colline, a fanatic of the philosopher Sören Kierkegaard, funnily dressed as his hero, pops in. The trio is engaged in disquisitions about life and weather, when Grieg, who has just been paid for giving private lessons to the son of an English millionaire, brings food and wine. As they are raising their glasses in a happy toast, the landlord walks in, demanding the rent. The four men manage to talk themselves out of trouble. Sören, Grieg and Munch depart to enjoy the Christmas frenzy, leaving Augusto to finish a commissioned article. But the writer is out of inspiration. A gentle knock at the door distracts him, announcing the arrival of a woman he has never seen before…


Searching for paintings with a connection to Boheme’s love duet, I ran into one of the versions of the “Lonely ones” (picture 2). It was awesome to discover how much this painting represents Mimi and Rodolfo’s struggle, their desperate need to be together and their even more desperate determination to stay away from each other, convinced that in that way they will probably be better… And then the “illumination”: to use this painting as the leitmotiv of my show and this recurrent figure of a blond angel in Munch’s paintings to convey Mimi’s mission: teaching the Bohemians that to love and to be loved is more important than the success, the money, the fame they are determinate to obtain at any cost, even loneliness. But to make the illusion work, the magical lady needed to step out of the canvas… First act ends with the couple kissing by the window under the blue light of Munch’s “Kiss” (picture 3)







GENESIS (continues)

SECOND ACT: Christmas Eve at the old town square, Munch has just revealed his last painting, Gamla stan at sunset. The shops are full, families throng the streets and pedlars cry their wares. The painter Munch observes them all: they are “his” creatures and he is deeply moved and excited to see them alive. (picture 1)

In Berns, Munch’s friends manage to secure a table. Augusto sings praises to Mimi, accompanying himself with a guitar (inspired in a famous picture of Strindberg playing the guitar: picture 2). Musetta (Tulla Larsen*) arrives hanging from the arm of a rich banker (Alcindoro’s figure is inspired on Munch’s portrait of Albert Kollmann). Having just had another strong discussion with Edoardo Munch, her plan is to make him literally explode with jealousy. It works, and after making a fool of the rich guy, the couple reunites in a passionate embracement. Munch, who has carried the red wig with him, puts it on Musetta’s head in order to bring back his Tulla… The friends join the crowd that, walking behind the passing band, abandons the square, leaving the banker alone to set the bill.

(*NOTE: Although it is known that it was a certain Mrs Heiberg the woman who obsessed Munch through almost all his life, and that the “Tulla Larsen affaire” happened much later in the painter’s chronology, I had to adopt Tulla as Munch’s obsession in this production due to the rhythmical needs related to her name: Musetta/Tulletta)


At this point, a new challenge arose for the second act setting: I needed to be sure I could have Störtorget’s skyline look as a Munch canvas. I sent this picture to the painter, Jan Edlun:

And after some weeks he came back to me with an incredible Gamla stan at sunset “a la maniera di” Munch (pictures 3 and 4)



Bohemians Migrate to Stockholm Without a Hitch

Seen and Heart International

Göran Forsling

November 30, 2015

Sweden Puccini La bohème. Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera, Daniele Callegari (conductor). Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm 21.11.2015 (Premiere) GF

Direction, set design, costume design, masks and lighting design: José Cura

Mimì – Yana Kleyn
August Strindberg/Rodolfo – Daniel Johansson
Edvard Munch/Marcello – Linus Börjesson
Tulla Larsen/Musetta – Sanna Gibbs
Søren Kirkegaard/Colline – John Erik Eleby
Edvard Grieg/Schaunard – Jens Persson
Benoit – Niklas Björling Rygert
Alcindoro – Tomas Bergström
Christmas goat/Parpignol – Jon Nilsson

Readers may be excused for raising an eyebrow while reading the cast-list and finding names like August Strindberg, Edvard Munch, Søren Kirkegaard and Edvard Grieg among the characters. I did the same when I saw the press release a while ago and being hardened after so many “modernizations” of operas through the years I admit my heart sank a bit. It was indeed with some dejection I walked through the chilly November evening on my way to the Royal Opera House. But things changed quickly. Before the curtain opened we could hear a pianist trying out the opening of Morning Mood – aha! Grieg is there in the attic, composing! When the opera proper started we were transported to a traditional late 19th century Bohème milieu with actors in period costumes. The only difference was that the backdrop was copies of Munch paintings and the characters were easily identified as the above mentioned Scandinavian cultural personalities. The music was the same as usual but there had been careful changes of the text to fit it to what we saw. We were decidedly not in Paris as in the original but in the town where we were – Stockholm. The background to this concept is so interesting that I take the liberty to quote José Cura’s notes in the programme book:

“In the 19th century, Scandinavia produced some of its greatest cultural achievements. It was a golden age of creativity. In 1885, Hans Jaeger, a very influential intellectual of that era, together with a bunch of radical comrades, founded the Kristiania-bohêmen group. Edvard Munch was part of it.

In June 2012, the Royal Swedish Opera invited me to direct and design La Bohème for the 2015/2016 season. I was walking through Gamla Stan (the Old Town), when I looked up and saw that a light was shining through the top window of that beautiful red building which is almost an iconographic postcard of Stockholm. This room could have been my Bohemian’s attic, I thought. Why not set La Bohème in Gamla Stan? And if my production would take place in 1800 Stockholm, why not take inspiration for the portrayal of my Rodolfo from August Strindberg? I went to Strindberg’s house/museum in search of ideas. It was there that I discovered a book titled Bohême Suédoise … The coincidence was too big. Investigating the Strindberg/Bohemian connection, I found his novel, Röda rummet, (The Red Room), a satire of Stockholm’s society in which he narrates the adventures of a young idealistic civil servant called Arvid Falk, who quits his job at the public administration to become a journalist and author. Even if any resemblance between Arvid Falk, August Strindberg and Puccini’s Rodolfo is a mere coincidence, I was convinced to have found the concept for my Bohème production: Hans Jaeger´s Kristiania-bohêmen, with Edvard Munch as one of its leading figures, and Strindberg´s Bohème Suédoise, were strong enough arguments to build my show.”

The end result is a wholly engaging performance, basically conventional but fresh with the Nordic setting and the revamped characters. There are many comical moments in the original and Cura never underplays them. This Bohème is grossly entertaining and there were laughter and giggles a-plenty during the premiere evening but the love-scenes and the tragedy, sketched in act III and culminating with Mimi’s death were indeed heartrending and many a tear was shed during the finale. José Cura is indeed a phenomenon. Besides being one of the world’s greatest tenors he has primarily singlehandedly controlled all the various functions that build a performance. A polymath, a Leonardo da Vinci of our time.

With the assistance of the Royal Orchestra and Chorus on their most Italianate behaviour and with Daniele Callegari so flexible and lenient towards the singers, this performance was the ideal synthesis of music and words. The mostly young cast were eminently well suited to their roles. Yana Kleyn’s Mimì (the only one of the main characters who hadn’t been given a new identity) was as close to the ideal as could be imagined. I saw her international debut in this very role five years ago at Opera på Skäret (review) when she already was very good (“She seems cut out for a great career”, I wrote) and she has rubbed down the metallic edge I mentioned then, lending even greater warmth to her tone. Her first act aria was sensitively sung with fine nuances but also gloriously brilliant and Maestro Callegari considerately made a pause after the aria to give room for a well-deserved round of applause. Daniel Johansson’s excellent Pinkerton in last year’s Madama Butterfly was a promising warm up for the much bigger role of Rodolfo and he has all the attributes that make a good Puccini tenor: rounded tone, good breath, brilliant top notes and lovely soft singing. Like Ms Kleyn he is also a natural actor and moreover tall and handsome.

Sanna Gibbs has previously sung Papagena at the Royal Opera but Musetta (or in this production Tulla Larsen, Munch’s mistress) is her first principal part in the house. With her lively temperament, her vivid acting and her glittering light coloratura soprano she is just cut out for the role and she will no doubt be a valuable member of the ensemble in the future. The other three Bohemians are also excellent, though it is a little disconcerting that Edvard Grieg, who was a very small man, is played by Jens Persson, the tallest member of the whole ensemble.

All in all an utterly satisfying production of La Bohème. The migration from Paris to Stockholm works without a hitch.





La bohème Podcast

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Cura's opening-night-only cameo.....




La bohème Podcast

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Note:  This is a machine-based translation.  It is provided as a way to offer a general idea of the review but should not be considered definitive



La Bohème at the Royal Opera House - Stockholm


Mogens H Andersson

22 November 2015



La bohème had its long awaited premiere at the Royal Opera last night.  The show began with Artistic Director Birgitta Svedén speaking a few well-chosen words about the recent terrorist acts in Paris and now in Mali.

It was a very fine opera experience and perhaps what explains the successful premiere is that one man, José Cura, was primary responsible for the directing, costumes, staging and lighting. However, I am not entirely sure how much of the success was due to the original characters having been given Scandinavian artist names…

Regardless of this, I think Cura has succeeded well in his task.  Among other things, I think his interpretation makes it easier to understand the story of the Bohemians, not least through a clear directorial effort.

In most other productions you understand the story and sequence of events by listening to the music but Cura makes it so much clearer theatrically.  For example, it becomes apparent that Rodolfo falls instantly in love with his Mimi.  It is one of the show’s highlights.

At the heart of the opera plot is, of course, the adventures of two couples in love but it is also about the tender depiction of friendship between Rodolfo and Marcello in the third act.

Musically, it was a truly great experience, especially in the first two acts and the last act.  Theatrically, the third act seemed a bit odd when part of the opera chorus switch to work clothes on the stage before taking up brooms and disappearing through a side door.  This is more to be regarded as a footnote and in no way detracted from the overall positive impression, with the projected paintings by Edvard Munch constituting a fundamental part of the sent design.

Vocally, it was a triumph for Daniel Johansson, with a powerful voice especially at the high notes… Linus Börjesson did very well for himself and I have never heard him more in his element; he goes from strength to strength…. Sanna Gibbs made a solid contribution as Musetta both vocally and dramaticaly, along with her escort wealthy Alcindoro, embodied perfectly by Tomas Bergström.  Yana Kleyn was excellent as Mimi especially in the first and last act…The show was also an excellent example of brilliant ensemble playing with a large measure of freedom for the other soloists with Niklas Björling Rygert, Jens Persson and John Erik Eleby …

The Royal Opera Chorus, as usual, made a solid and resonant effort but also left nothing to be desired dramatically.  The children from Adolf Fredrik’s Music School added to the chorus but also created theatrical life and motion.

The interval music between Acts 1 and 2 performance by Jon Nilsson on violin and Andreas Lundmark at the piano was a laudable initiative, but it was very difficult to hear frin my place in the auditorium.

In conclusion, I would count the Scandinavian Bohème as one of the better performances I have experienced over the years.  It felt like a like a nice gesture that José Cura wanted everyone who participated in the successful premiere to be involved with the roof-raising applause.

There was a standing ovation and it was only right and proper and well deserved!



Note:  This is a machine-based translation.  It is provided as a way to offer a general idea of the review but should not be considered definitive


Nordic Bohème Convinces with Vocal Splendor

Svenska Dagbladet

Bo Löfvendahl

22 November 2015

 The Bohemians gather when José Cura sets Puccini’s La bohème in the last century Stockholm.  It was easy and imaginative, with good musical craftsmanship and a brilliant Yana Kleyn as Mimi.

Opera Director: José Cura, including set design, and more.

Cast: Yana Kleyn, Daniel Johansson, Sanna Gibbs, Linus Börjesson, Jens Persson, John Erik Eleby, Niklas Björling Rygert etc.

Conductor:  Daniele Callegari.

No opera can elicit tears like La bohème.  And this time you may have a reason to cry even before it starts, when Artistic Director steps forward to dedicate tonight’s premiere to terror victims in cities like Paris and Beirut.

Argentine tenor José Cura looks like a veritable jack of all trades:  he is responsible for the directing, set designs, costumes, masks, light, and for tonight only as a figure in his own set.  Inspired by a visit to the Strindberg Museum, he has made a Scandinavian La bohème, with the frozen bohemians located in Stockholm, just before the turn of the century when the opera was written.  It is not, therefore, a temporal update but rather a geographical movement.  

Cura creates a fictional world where the bohemians become 1800 artistic figures.  Mimi retains her own name, but the poet Rodolfo has become Strindberg, the painter Marcel becomes Edvard Munch, the musician Schaunard is Edvard Grieg (a few notes from him have also found their way into the score) and the philosopher Collin is Søren Kierkegaard—that the idols belong to different generations is not at all problematic in this opera reality.  Cura combines naturalism and symbolism so that both Munch and Strindberg could have felt at home in the bohemians’ drafty attic.

Psychologically, it is admittedly difficult to see Strindberg as a wistful poet but the temperamental quarrels between Marcel and Musette probably reflects quite well the wrenching relationship between Munch and Tulla Larsen, the red-haired woman we recognize from several of his paintings.  His pictures pervade the entire set, often as large screens.  Sometimes the notion is clear, sometimes elegant—when Rodolfo / Stringberg and Mimi meet their first kiss melts together with Munch’s ‘The Kiss.’

A Munch-ified view of the main square is the set design for Act II, where the Christmas Eve dinner is enjoyed in an outside terrace in a somewhat un-Swedish way.  But the Stockholm environment contributes greatly to the feeling of home in this set.  Cura even changed the Italian text sung on stage.  The bohemians exclaim “Till Berns, till Berns” and the street sweepers who gather at dawn cry “Vi ses vid Danvikstull.”

Despite the slightly complicated concept, it was performed easily and imaginatively, with good humor and much charm.  And everything rests on a solid musical craftsmanship.  Daniele Callegari creates unrestrained harmony from the responsive orchestra which emphasizes the musical drama that becomes transparent but never cool.

Yana Kleyn must be one of the world's best Mimi-interpreter, with gravity and presence. Her voice is as smooth and shimmering as the cloth she embroiders. Sanna Gibbs plays Musetta / Tulla Larsen with unparalleled joy and temperament, an archetypal femme fatale who takes control of her life. Daniel Johansson tops the male Bohemian team Rodolfo / August, with impressive vocal splendor, but sometimes appearing absent. As his partner, Marcel / Munch shows Linus Börjesson to be the warm, fine baritone he is.



Photos by José Cura, Director



























Miscellaneous Photos







Note:  This is a machine-based translation.  It is provided as a way to offer a general idea of the review but should not be considered definitive


Miscellaneous Press Quotes


 “…and then to escape from worldly worries for a while in such a strong performance, yes, this is a TERRIFICALLY pleasant experience.”   Eskilstuna-kuriren

“La bohème in Scandinavian is a beautiful version, good looking, touching, and professional.” Kulturbloggen

“Nordic bohemians convinces with vocal splendor.  [It is] imaginative, with good humor and much charm.” SvD

“…an elegant transfer from the quarters in Paris to the Old Town…” Expressen



Note:  This is a machine-based translation.  It is provided as a way to offer a general idea of the review but should not be considered definitive


Everything for Sweden – Except the One Thing He Cannot Do


Gunilla Brodrej

22 November 2015

La bohème by Giacomo Puccini, directed by José Cura for the Royal Opera, Stockholm

Gunilla Brodrej looks at an elegant transfer from Quarter of Paris to the old town.

During the break, I happened to hear two prominent filmmakers chatting.  They were joking happily that “we don’t have this many extras when doing a production for SVT.”  

Their focus was certainly on the bustling scene in the second act of La bohème (1895), with the crowds in the marketplace, the kids who flock around the toy salesman and the tavern scene with the artistic bohemians in the Café Momus.

In José Cura’s Swedish concept, we go to Bern and the Old Town Christmas Market.  Many people are there but there are, in fact, no extras in the scene.  It is the opera and children’s chorus who the film makers see singing there.  Everyone sings.  That’s how opera works. Perhaps the film makers were here for the first time.

And this might be a very good time to go to the Royal Opera for the first time. Puccini’s opera sounds amazing under the direction of Daniele Callegari.

But the show is tenor José Cura’s baby.  He has done it all:  director, set designer, lighting, costumes and make-up.  After a walk in the Old Town and a visit to the Strindberg Museum, he decided to place one of operas favorite stories in Scandinavia in an 1800s setting.  The four bohemians who freeze in the attic in Paris now frees in the old town and are called Strindberg, Munch, Grieg and Kierkegaard (instead of Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard, and Colline).  Mimi is the only one who retains her original name and she is created from the angelic creature in Munch’s painting “Two People” who participates in the action to get the others to realize what is important in love: namely, love.

I think the cast gets a prequel that allows them to become quickly sketched, fuller subjects of the imagination.  Edvard Munch’s carefully selected paintings are beautiful, evocative resources that correspond elegantly with the libretto.

The great singers are all Swedes (except for the brilliant Russian soprano Yana Kleyns as Mimi). Daniel Johansson (Strindberg/Rodolfo) is a solid tenor; Linus Börjesson’s theatrical presence is reflected in his soft, full baritone. The mezzo-soprano Sanna Gibbs as Tulla Larsen / Musetta nearly steals the show with her plastic brilliance. Musetta is the opera’s “slut” (yes, so reads the text) and as such becomes many directors’ wet dream.  Nor could José Cura resist the temptation to let her play a little bit extra on her seductive arts.  It’s the same old whore-madonna dichotomy again.  And Mimi could have well been spared such coy innocence in the first act that she could have been visiting an elderly uncle.  Otherwise, I like the direction.  This is a good staging and good contact between the singers.   

With that being said, José Cura could do almost everything for Sweden, but there was one thing he couldn’t do—it is such a pity that he did not go all the way and translate La bohème (into Swedish).  For now, we have to be content to pick up some Swedish names only now and then in the Italian flow….




Note:  This is a machine-based translation.  It is provided as a way to offer a general idea of the review but should not be considered definitive


La bohème, Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm — ‘A roaring success’

Financial Times

Guy Dammann

24 November 2015

Four Stars

Puccini wasn’t a big fan of overtures in operas, preferring to dive right into the action. But he gets one in this new staging of La bohème, with strains of Edvard Grieg’s Morning sketched out on a battered piano. Grieg? Well yes, because this is Stockholm’s Scandinavian bohème, where Puccini’s Schaunard is recast as Norway’s most famous composer alongside August Strindberg as Rodolpho, Edvard Munch as Marcello and Søren Kierkegaard as Colline.

Grieg’s Morning, and the rest of his Peer Gynt music, secured its composer considerable fame and fortune, certainly enough to pay the rent on his shared garret, with plenty left over to cover Mimi’s medical care. Luckily, however, these implications are left unexplored by the show’s director, and the comforting story of romantic idealism tainted by penury and death is left fundamentally unchanged.

The conceit and its realisation are the work of the Argentine superstar tenor, sometime conductor and now director-designer José Cura. It is sung in Italian, but with proper names changed, so we hear of “Augusto” and “Eduardo”; Musetta is “Tullita”, after Munch’s lover Tulla Larsen, and Marcello’s painting of the Red Sea becomes one of Munch’s studies of Tulla’s flood of flowing red hair. The elegantly conceived set, inspired by Stockholm’s old town, and effective 1880s costumes present nothing unusual, though the stage is for the most part backed by projections of Munch’s paintings.

It’s a roaring success, by and large, with the implicit flattery of local audiences sustained by high musical values. Daniel Johansson’s Strindberg and, especially, Linus Börjesson’s Munch are warmly and sympathetically played, while the feather-light brilliance of Sanna Gibb’s Tullita contrasts superbly with the darker hues of Yana Kleyn’s Mimi. All respond well to the baton of Daniele Callegari, who also extracts a sparky and passionate performance from the orchestra.

One wonders, though, how much it helps to have the image of the historical Strindberg and Munch rubbing up against Puccini’s purposefully threadbare characterisations. To be sure, the show cannot escape accusations of kitsch — there are certainly Munch paintings better suited than “The Scream” to illuminating Act Four — nor of artistic shallowness: the revised setting adds nothing to our understanding of Strindberg, nor of Puccini’s opera. But the wit is genuine and there is a sufficient number of lovely touches — particularly Colline’s surrendering his philosopher’s wig and coat: Kierkegaard died before Munch was born — to ensure nothing blocks the waterworks.




Note:  This is a machine-based translation.  It is provided as a way to offer a general idea of the review but should not be considered definitive


José Cura Flatters our Vanity: La bohème by Puccini at the Royal Opera in Stockholm

Sveriges Radio

Per Feltzin

25 November 2015

French rooftops have been replaced with dormers from the old town of Stockholm, where we find Strindberg, Munch, Kierkegaard and Grieg. So tenor and also director José Cura interpretation of Puccini’s La bohème had its premiere this weekend at the Royal Opera in Stockholm.

It is clear that it flatters our vanity that the Argentine superstar Cura has come here and sees Sweden in Puccini’s indestructible opera.  It’s love—he sees us and on stage he sets up August and Edvard and they go to the Red Room in Berns and the celebrations that take place on the square at the Christmas market. Munch’s paintings are displayed on the screen.

Cura has therefore done it all—directing, stage design, costumes, lighting and make-up and the beginning is tantalizing with several small transformations. […] What remains is a good set.

Tenor Daniel Johansson as August Strindberg / Rodolfo has a nice glossiness in the high notes but a cloudiness in the midrange.  Soprano Yana Kleyn that Mimi has a fine sensitivity in her soprano but sometimes forces it and then get a slightly troublesome vibrato.

Musically, it is excellent….




Note:  This is a machine-based translation.  It is provided as a way to offer a general idea of the review but should not be considered definitive

La Bohème at the Opera

Dagens Nyheter

Johanna Paulsson.

23 November 2015


At the piano sits Edvard Grieg and playing his “Morning” and suddenly we are right there, in the middle of the Main Square in Stockholm.  When the Royal Opera puts Puccini’s popular opera La bohème among the roofs of the old town, it’s hard not to be seduced by the scenes.  The set changes with Munch paintings and with inspiration from both Kristiania bohemerna and August Strindberg’s “Red Room.”

The multicompetent director José Cura (set design, costume, make-up, and lighting) has been clever about the story of the soul of the Scandinavian artist who burns his manuscripts to keep the attic warm.

The author Rodolfo has been transformed into Strindberg, the composer Schaunard has become Grieg, the philosopher Colline emulates Søren Kierkegaard, the painter Marcello is Edvard Munch and the cabaret singer Musetta is his mistress Tulla Larsen.  Only Mimi remains the same as the young woman with the cough and the cold hands, sweetly portrayed by soprano Yana Kleyn, although I would have like a little less vibrato. 

The Italian libretto has been modified for local markers, not only with the Scandinavian names for the bohemians but also with places like Berns and Mosebacke.  Dramatically everything hangs together ….

Initially the singing had a bit of difficulty reaching out beyond the orchestra pit but tenor Daniel Johansson has gone from promising to natural and delivers a Rodolfo/Strindberg with wide-open sounds.  Sanna Gibbs makes Musetta / Tulla Larsen a brazen femme fatale who softens at the end; Linus Börjesson's Marcello / Munch parries dynamics well.




Note:  This is a machine-based translation.  It is provided as a way to offer a general idea of the review but should not be considered definitive


The Royal Opera’s new La bohème


Jens Runnberg

26 November 2015

World-famous tenor José Cura has always been concerned with the entire musical performance and going beyond his role as a singer. 

In his first appearances in Sweden, in Dalhalla in 1999 and 2002, he also assumed the role of conductor in front of the London Symphony Orchestra and Sinfonia Varsovia.  He began directing opera productions in 2008 and in 2012 received the offer to do La bohème on the national stage. 

He took on the task by strolling around the Old Town and sneaking into the Blue Tower and sitting on Strindberg’s bed, because he admired Strindberg since he played Jean in Miss Julie. When he saw on the bookshelf one that had “bohemians” in the title, he had his concept. The gang of four poor artists in Puccini’s La bohème took shape in the author August Strindberg, composer Edvard Grieg, the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and the painter Edvard Munch.

Musetta becomes Munch’s mistress Tulla Larssen while Mimi, for reasons unknown, is not Frida Uhl, Harriet Bosse or Siri von Essen.

Puccini went straight into the action without an Overture; in this set, Grieg’s tribulation with composing “Morning Mood” at the piano opens the show.  Munch’s paintings The Kiss, The Sun, and The Scream are strikingly projected on the back of the stage and offer great interaction with the epic.

What is known about Strindberg’s great jealousy corresponds nicely with this performance, with unsympathetic personality traits of Rodolfo (August).  Munch and Strindberg met, were friends, and were central figures in the bohemian circuit at Zum schwartzen Ferkel in Berlin, had the same mistress, and later became enemies.  Also in reality, Munch painted Strindberg.

The work would not be one of opera’s top two or three most produced play unless it also contained an effective drama.  La bohème traps the actors in four acts, with short fragments of love, family quarrels, and incurable disease.  The work poses questions about what money means in a relationship and when separation is the only way out. 

The performance is unusually even from the main to the smallest supporting roles [and] has the elements to  make it into an honest artistic success. 








José Cura of tenor fame was in 2012 commissioned by the Royal Swedish Opera to stage a La Bohème. So he has done, and the performance I watched today was among the most gripping Bohèmes I have ever witnessed. Cura has set the opera in Stockholm approximately 50 years later than Murger's Paris setting.

The famous Swedish playwright August Strindberg has taken the place of Rodolfo, the world famous Norwegian painter (also a Bohemian) Edvard Munch has taken the place of Marcello, and as the musician Schaunard you meet Edvard Grieg. Colline the philosopher is (more or less) himself, but in the programme Cura explains that he is an ardent follower of Soren Kierkegaard and copies him in all respects, also in dress. As Kierkegaard died in 1855, when Strindberg was 5 years old, this is a necessary twist, and when Colline takes his coat and other items of dress (also his wig) off after the "Vecchio Cimara" aria, this is revealed to the public.

For once, the text is modified to conform with the revised settings; Rodolfo/Strindberg pointing to the sky of Stockholm, Momus becoming the popular venue of Berns in Stockholm, the delicacies mentioned being typical Swedish Christmas delights (Glögg, polkagris) and the customs stations mentioned in act III are those of 19th century Stockholm.

Apart from this transposition in place, which seemed to be very much appreciated by the predominantly Swedish public, the performance was a traditional one. It was a very gripping, which also seems to indicate that José Cura is a gifted producer also when it comes to instruction of the performers.

The public received the performance with great enthusiasm.








ACT I -- Photos by José Cura





































Act II -- Photos by José Cura












Act III -- Photos by José Cura















Act IV -- Photos by José Cura




































His own Vision




José Cura at the RSO

José Cura took part in opening night performance in Act II





Last Updated:  Sunday, December 18, 2016  © Copyright: Kira