seems to have been the year of La Bohème;
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.
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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
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!
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
I can never tire of it for it is genuine and it has a sincere
universal appeal and pathos that cannot be denied.
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
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”.