In his production from the Komische Oper Berlin, Barrie Kosky's stark, spare interpretation of the La bohème legend gave it a rare spark of humanity focused on Marina Costa-Jackson's haunting Mimì, whose existence became the central focus even when she wasn't singing, and who wound up being bathed in a silver light of spirituality.

From the moment she poked her head up above the trap-door in the bohemian garret, Costa-Jackson stole the audience's heart. Dressed in simple outfits that made her look like a child in grown-up's clothing, with a wide-eyed innocence that told you from her first appearance she was going to break hearts, it was as if Mimì herself were coming through the expressive simplicity of her singing, the impulsive warmth of her personality, and her coy ways and chemistry with her nice-guy Rodolfo (Saimir Pirgu). Erica Petrocelli's Musetta was similarly authentic; once her voice warmed up for her "Waltz", which then went like gangbusters, she was magnetically endearing like a daffy silent film star – the kind with a heart of gold.

The men were an impressive lot, initially adorable in their man cave lodgings, engaging in the usual self-consciously choreographed horseplay. Pirgu's Rodolfo always had a sense this was a dream and may have been a touch remote, but his singing was ardent and sublime. Kihun Yoon's Marcello was the young cast's anchor, with real beauty of voice and easy command. Nicholas Brownlee's Colline and Michael J. Hawk's Schaunard handled their good-natured characterizations with lots of energy and substance.

James Conlon in the pit led an LA Opera Orchestra which keeps getting better, more alert, more responsive to his wishes, with a wider range of dynamics and expressive in ways that only the best opera orchestras achieve. They had soaring lyrical flair, a real street-band tang in their winds, and split-second timing with the singers. The vivid Technicolor score they rolled out sat well with most of the cast, and never kept us from the more reflective, elusive heart of Puccini's sad tale.

The LA Opera Chorus was powerful, in synch and did their acting with enthusiasm and conviction. The children's chorus had an air of fresh-faced innocence that recalled Bizet's Carmen.

Rufus Didwiszus's sets were a series of forbidding block walls and 19th-century daguerreotypes for the outer acts, but for the Latin Quarter showpiece he concocted an intoxicated rotating dance hall teeming with Fellini-esque denizen characters; there was so much going on – including the "brief nudity" noted on the website – that it would be tempting to go back for another look.

Victoria Behr's costumes were brilliant for the party scene where every other person seemed to be either a clown or at least wear a big nose. They were all impossibly silly, whether it was chorus women topped with ostrich feathers or bawdy Bacchus gryphons, and they were all just right.