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Puccini’s Deceptively Simple Masterpiece Returns

New York
The Metropolitan Opera
11/18/2011 -  and November 22, 25* and November 28, December 2, 8, 2011
Giacomo Puccini: La bohème

Hibla Gerzmaya (Mimi), Susanna Phillips (Musetta), Dimitri Pittas (Rodolfo), Alexey Markov (Marcello), Patrick Carfizzi (Schaunard), Matthew Rose (Colline), Paul Plishka (Benoît/Alcindoro), Richard Pearson (Customhouse Officer), Jason Hendrix (Customhouse Sergeant), Christian Jeong (Parpignol)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Donald Palumbo (Chorus Master), Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Louis Langrée (Conductor)
Franco Zeffirelli (Production and Set Design), Peter J. Hall Costume Design), Gil Wechsler (Lighting Design), David Kneuss (Stage Director)

(© Cory Weaver /The Metropolitan Opera)

Back for its 1,242nd performance since its Met premiere on Puccini’s birthday 111 years ago, La bohème continues to delight the Met audience. Every time I see this Zeffirelli production, which marks its 30th anniversary in December, and hear Puccini’s ravishing score, I am reminded of the extraordinary level of seemingly artless artistry made accessible to the opera newcomer and connoisseur alike. (Read here). Except for the delightful Musetta (Susanna Philips) and the veteran Paul Plishka, this is a new cast. Although the two lead singers for my last outing were truly a difficult act to follow, particularly Joseph Calleja singing his first Met Rodolfo, there were excellent performances here,

Hibla Gerzmava, who shares the role of Mimi with Hei-Kyung Hong, sang with a luminous tone and deeply affecting acting. She made Mimi’s death scene so poignant; one could almost feel the life ebbing out of her body. And it was all in the voice. Susanna Phillips, whom I had seen as Musetta in 2008, is now even better. She captures Musetta’s flightiness and coquetry but also her warm and loving nature. She has a rich velvety soprano, agile and blooming at the top. She was simply entrancing.

Alexey Markov, a marvelous Marcello, is such a charismatic singer - full of personality and high spirits - with a mellow, sonorous voice. His relationship with both Rodolfo and Mimi was beautifully drawn and extremely touching. Patrick Carfizzi, who has sung more than thirty roles at the Met, made a fine Schaunard. Our Rodolfo. Dimtri Pittas, whom I had seen and enjoyed three years ago as Tamino (Read here), had an off night, manifesting vocal strain, particularly in the first act, perhaps due to an indisposition. However, he did give a fully-committed dramatic performance, capturing both Rodolfo’s jealousy and his utter devotion to Mimi.

The standout of the evening was bass Matthew Rose in his Met debut. He has a beautiful, dark, resonant voice, impeccable technique and a wonderful stage presence. His act 4 aria, “Vecchia zimarra”, sung with lovely legato and eloquent word painting, was both vocally stunning and touchingly comic. His acting as Mimi died was moving and compelling. Rose is a big man, and his size made his tenderness and grief at Mimi’s plight all the more moving. I heard him in October lieder recital at Wigmore hall and was tremendously impressed at the degree of characterization with which he imbued the songs and by his burnished beautifully colored voice deployed with such dynamic nuance and impeccable phrasing. He is equally at home on both the opera stage and the more exposed concert platform. I look forward to hearing him again on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Met Chorus, crammed into every nook and cranny of Zeffirelli’s teaming set for act two, simply dazzled. The Met Orchestra under Louis Langrée gave a tender, lyrical and heartfelt account of Puccini’s achingly beautiful score.

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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