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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème - opera in four acts
Mimi - Angela Gheorghiu
Rodolfo - Ramón Vargas
Musetta - Ainhoa Arteta
Marcello - Ludovic Tézier
Colline - Oren Gradus
Schaunard - Quinn Kelsey
Benoit -  Paul Plishka
Parpignol - Meredith Derr
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Nicola Luisotti
Production and set design by Franco Zeffirelli
Live, Metropolitan Opera, New York, 5 April 2008
EMI CLASSICS 2174179 [136:00]
Experience Classicsonline

This certainly seems to have been the year of La Bohème; for following on from the inspired DG audio recording (4776600 - see review), starring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón, conducted by Bertrand de Billy comes this spectacular Zeffirelli Metropolitan Opera production.
Readers might like to visit my Bohème survey for fuller details of Puccini’s opera and comparative reviews of leading audio (and DVD recordings).
Visually, Franco Zeffirelli’s set designs are stunning. The set for Act I and IV cunningly positions the artists’ garret studio so that you are in no doubt that it is small and spartan and set high up amongst the roof-tops of Paris.  The Latin Quarter around the Café Momus that is the setting for Act II, is quite awe-inspiring. It features a magnificent back-drop of Parisian high-rise buildings and multi-level platforms to hold a huge cast of shoppers, children, and marching soldiers and bands. Peter J. Hall’s sumptuous costumes here, as for all the production’s scenes, are gorgeous.  Between the acts host, Renée Fleming interviews the production’s Stage Director. You not only notice how vast is the Met’s stage, but how slick is the complex operation of scene-changing between Acts II and III and how many of the large set-structures are strung and stored high up towards the ceiling of the backstage area.
Renée also interviews Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas and is genuinely fulsome in her praise – saying how tearsome she had felt during their famous Act I duet.  The bubbly Gheorghiu in this interview comes over as delightfully spontaneous and animated; she makes the point that she does not regard Mimi as pure and innocent - why then would Rodolfo have cause to be jealous? In fact it is noticeable that it is she who blows out the candle first in her first encounter with Rodolfo, clearly eager to gain his protection! 
Both Gheorghiu and Vargas shine. Their duets have a romantic intensity that sends shivers down this reviewer’s spine and I have seen many production’s of this opera over many years. Seldom has the closing death-of-Mimi scene been so affecting.  Some might deride the over-popularity of La Bohème but I can never tire of it for it is genuine and it has a sincere universal appeal and pathos that cannot be denied.
Ludovic Tézier is masterful in song and acting, a steady Marcello, his strength and resolve only wilting under extreme provocation from Musetta coquettishly portrayed by Ainhoa Arteta. That said, I cannot forget Elizabeth Harwood in this role on the Pavarotti/Freni/Karajan Decca recording. 
The Met orchestra is outstanding and is served by superb sound engineering. I would put Nicola Luisotti’s reading up with Karajan’s for its beauty and evocation – listen for instance to how well, in Act I, Luisotti evokes how the stove’s flames consume Rodolfo’s manuscript to warm the young artists.
In short I cannot fault this production. I am unashamed to say it brought tears to my eyes; and after all that is precisely what Puccini wanted. When he was presented with a project he would enquire if there were, “some sorrow in it [and] at least a scene to make one weep”.            
Ian Lace


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