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Puccini, La Bohème: Soloists, Orquesta del Principado de Asturias. Coro Lírico de Cantabria. Conductor: Antonio Pirolli. Palacio de Festivales de Cantabria. 30. 1.2010. (JMI)

Co -production Palacio de Festivales de Cantabria and Gran Teatro de Córdoba.

Director: José Luis Castro.

Sets: Giuliano Spinelli.

Costumes: Irene Monti.

Lighting: Vinicio Cheli.



Mimí: Cristina Gallardo-Domas.

Rodolfo: James Valenti.

Marcello: Juan Jesús Rodríguez.

Musetta: Isabel Rey.

Colline: Simón Orfila.

Schaunard: David Rubiera.

Benoit/Alcindoro: Miguel Sola.

La Boheme- Act I 

Picture courtesy Palacio de Festivales de Cantabria, Santander

It is more than three years since my last visit to Santander for an opera performance. One of the reasons for this long period of time has to do with the development of the opera season in Santander, which has been declining noticeably in importance in recent years. As evidence of that, it is sufficient to note that this season , La Bohème is the only opera in the Palacio de Festivales de Cantabria’s program.

The production is a revival of the premiere that took place here in November 2005. Last year it was also revived in Pamplona and my impressions of it are here.

This time, musical direction was in the hands of Italian Antonio Pirolli, whose reading was rather good. You can blame him for some shortage of passion, that is true, but he took good care of details, drawing more than decent playing from the orchestra, and helping the singers at all turns If some of them were almost inaudible on occasion, this was by no means due to excessive volume from the pit but was down to a shortage of vocal power onstage.

I was quite interested to see the Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo Domas again because she has had health problems in recent years, which have forced her to cancel many commitments and some of her most recent performances have left impressions that have not been very positive. This time however, her Mimì was very much better than in Coruña two and half years ago, although still not quite what she was. She was good, though not especially particularly bright toned, in her Raconto but was much better in "Donde lieta usci”. I am happy to report that Ms Gallardo Domas remains a very acceptable Mimì, if of slightly lower quality than the eloquently moving soprano of former years.

The American tenor James Valenti sang Rodolfo and his performance was also better than I remember him as the Duke of Mantua in Florence last October. He has an appealing figure on stage and a pleasant voice, but somehow he lacks the capacity to really move the audience. He was good in "Che gelida manina" but offered an "O soave fanciulla" that was almost inaudible, singing from the back of the stage. He finished the duet with a barely touched high C, as Mimì did also. Valenti’s middle range is decidedly underpowered though and he was barely audible in ensembles or when singing with other colleagues. The beautiful fourth act duet with Marcello, "O Mimì, tu più non torni” became almost a Marcello solo, although the baritone never forced his voice.

Juan Jesús Rodríguez’s Marcello was in fact the best performance of the whole evening in vocal terms since he displayed a beautiful voice of true Verdian colour. He is at an excellent point in his career and it was rather a pity that this Bohème was Puccini’s version rather than Leoncavallo’s.

Isabel Rey was an outstanding interpreter of Musetta, whose only weak point was not ending her Waltz Song piano as it always should be. Her excellent vocal performance was backed up with marvellous acting too.

Simon Orfila is a bass-baritone whose his best role is not Colline. He is a good singer but his ‘Vecchia Zimarra’ was less than the high point that it should have been.

Santander is no exception to the rule that all opera houses like to promote their own principals so David Rubiera sang Schaunard. Sonorous enough that’s for sure, but also rather coarse in tone.

There was a sold out house but only muted enthusiasm during the performance. At the final bows the loudest cheers went to Juan Jesús Rodríguez, followed by Isabel Rey.

By the way, La Bohème is an opera that usually lasts for about one hour and 45 minutes. Here it went on for well over 3 hours, due to having three intermissions. Not good practice I think, and probably a factor in the modest audience response.

José M Irurzun

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