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Puccini, La Bohème: Soloists, Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra. Orfeón Pamplonés. Conductor: Miguel Gómez Martínez. Auditorio El Baluarte de Pamplona. 4. 3.2009. (JMI)

Director: José Luis Castro
Sets: Giuliano Spinelli
Costumes: Irene Monti
Lighting: Vinicio Cheli


Mimí: Ainhoa Arteta
Rodolfo: José Luis Duval
Marcello: Vladimir Chernov
Musetta: Sabina Puértolas.
Colline: Miguel Ángel Zapater
Schaunard: Juan Tomás Martínez
Alcindoro/Benoît: Lluis Sintes

This series of performances of Puccini’s La Bohème  surely indicates that the deep economic crisis has started to affect the world of the opera in Spain. During last autumn it was announced that there would be five performances of Bohème - two in Pamplona and three in San Sebastián - with the added interest of the presence  of Ainhoa Arteta, who is (together with Superman) the only opera singer in Spain who can be considered a true celebrity. In the end, only the two performances in Pamplona took place, while those in San Sebastian were cancelled.

This production of
La Bohème was originally a collaboration between Santander and Córdoba, having been premiered  in November 2005.  The stage  direction was the responsibility of Jose Luis Castro, former general director of Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza, who gave a traditional interpretation of  Puccini’s masterpiece. He transfers the action to the 1920s and offers some attractive sets, suitable costumes, and the usual good lighting work by  Vinicio Chelil. The production leaves ample space on the stage, especially in Act II, avoiding the crowding which is so usual in other productions. Jose Luis Castro simply relates the story of the young bohemians (not so young in this case) without new readings or attempts at originality. The only “exotic” point – which is not convincing - consists of showing Rodolfo and Mimí singing their duet “O soave fanciulla” out on the roof of the attic, reminiscent of a scene from Mary Poppins!

The musical direction was the responsibility of Miguel Angel Gómez Martinez who replaced (during the rehearsal phase) Friedrich Haider who, surprisingly, cancelled due to family problems. In these circumstances to be able of assuring the presence of the Granada-born maestro is an genuine achievement. Considering the circumstances, Mr Gómez Martínez gave us a real musical miracle. Not only did he conduct a most satisfactory Bohème, but he was also  able to help the singers and drew what is probably the best performance I have heard from the Orquesta Sinfonica de Navarra in any opera. To achieve all that in such a short period  of time  is  worthy of praise.

As I have said, the biggest attraction of this Bohème was the presence of Ainhoa Arteta as Mimí. Although the soprano from Guipuzcoan is one of the best known Musettas in great opera houses, this is not the  first time she has sung Mimí. Very early in her career (1992) she sang the role at Bilbao’s Teatro Arriga opposite the American Richard Leech and a very young Carlos Álvarez. In the past 17 years Ms Arteta Ainhoa's voice has developed very positively and today she is  in enviable vocal shape. If in 1992 she was too light for Mimí, she is now perfectly suited to the vocal demands of the embroidery girl. This  Mimí was always bright, although at some moments she was rather short of emotion, and this is a very important aspect of the character. I believe that, once Ainhoa Arteta matures dramatically, she can be a great Mimí. She has the voice,  and has a shining and spectacular way of projecting it. In the third act (Donde lieta usci) and particularly in Act IV, she was Mimi, able  truly to move the audience as it should be done, with all the fragility and vulnerability of the role.

Mexican tenor Jose Luis Duval was a somewhat superficial interpreter of Rodolfo. He is a tenor with a shining and powerful high register, whereas the rest of the tessitura does not have the same quality, and is reminiscent of certain 'old fashioned' tenors. He is not too refined or expressive as a singer either. You can admire the top end of his voice, but treal emotion is hardly ever present.

At almost 55, the Russian baritone Vladimir Chernov preserves  a warm timbre and great stage presence. Many readers will remember him as the Verdi baritone at New York Metropolitan in the 90s, although to my taste he never was a dramatic baritone. Then and now he continues to be  an interesting singer, and although with time his projection has not  improved, he retains a fresh voice, although on stage he is not too  credible as  the young painter Marcello.

The Navarra born soprano Sabina Puértolas was a reasonable Musetta, although she was not too bright in vocal terms. Her voice is not big and is rather tight at the top. In her favour I should mention that she finished the famous Waltz in piano, as it always should.

The Asturian Miguel Zapater Angel was a somewhat coarse Colline, short of nobility in “Vecchia Zimarra.” Venezuelan Juan Tomás Martinez completed the Bohemian quartet as Schaunard.

The house was sold out. At the final bows Ainhoa Arteta received a triumphant reception and Gómez Martinez, Chernov and Puértolas were very warmly applauded.

José M Irurzun

Pictures  - courtesy of Auditorio El Baluarte de Pamplona

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