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Conspicuous Consumption

New York
Metropolitan Opera House
10/01/2005 -  
Giacomo Puccini: La Boheme
Hei-Kyung Hong (Mimi); Alexandra Deshorties (Musetta); Roberto Aronica (Rodolfo); Vladimir Chernov (Marcello); Richard Bernstein (Colline); Sebastian Catana (Schaunard)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Philippe Auguin (conductor)

The New York City Opera has a beautiful and dramatically sound production of La Boheme in service at present. The sets are realistic when appropriate, fanciful when being poetic. There is snow and a gorgeous moon. Also, there is a palpable sense of the role of the settings in the drama itself. An astoundingly shocking prolepsis in Act II (I won’t reveal its specific coup de theatre) sends one out into the lobby in a cold sweat.

Unfortunately the production currently playing in town is the tired old Zeffirelli staging at the Metropolitan Opera. So much is wrong with this production that it is hard to condense the list into a small review, but some of the lowlights are:

1. No one ever looks cold or uncomfortable
2. There are over 100 people on the stage at the same time for the outdoor scene and the resulting mishmash is simply distracting
3. There is no sense of the poignant
4. There is no relationship except the most cursory one between the sets, costumes, lighting, etc. and the story line

Add to this disconnect a Marcello who is more than twice the age of his mates and all that is left is a giant leap of faith that I, for one, was not inspired to make.

Musically, the piece was given a brisk reading by conductor Philippe Auguin. He takes a rather unsentimental view of the big numbers, especially Musetta’s waltz, concentrating instead on the gorgeous string sound of the Met orchestra which he allows to intone at a high volume. Auguin feels that he can unleash his forces because the two principals are able to project at a high enough volume, but the resultant singing often felt strained.

Hei-Kyung Hong as Mimi was the better at pitch control, but never approached the emotional center of her role. Without the aforementioned foreshadowing, she goes from healthy to ill without any real sense of change. The Rodolfo of Roberto Aronica could hit his high notes, but could not hold on to them and sounded as if he were pushing his voice a bit beyond its limits each time that he tried.

The rest ranged from competent to disastrous. Vladimir Chernov was often inaudible, Alexandra Deshorties consistently off pitch. Only Richard Bernstein as Colline was impressive in a secondary role.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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