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A beloved production returns to the Met

New York
Metropolitan Opera House
03/19/2014 -  & March 22, 26*, 29 and April 2, 5, 10, 14, 18, 2014
Giacomo Puccini: La bohème

Anita Hartig (Mimì), Vittorio Grigolo (Rodolfo), Massimo Cavalletti (Marcello), Jennifer Rowley*/Susanna Phillips (Musetta), Nicolas Testé (Colline), Patrick Carfizzi (Schaunard), Philip Cokorinos (Benoît, Alcindoro), Daniel Clark Smith (Parpignol), Jason Hendrix (Customhouse sergeant), Joseph Turi (Customhouse officer)
Donald Palumbo (Chorus Master), Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Stefano Ranzani (Conductor)
Franco Zeffirelli (Production & Set Design), Peter J. Hall (Costume Design), Gil Wechsler (Lighting Design), J. Knighten Smit (Stage Director)

A. Hartig, V. Grigolo (© Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

About five years ago, Paul Driscoll, the editor of Opera News included an item in one of his columns, a charming story that I am reminded of every time I see La bohème. In connection with the upcoming valedictory appearances of Otto Schenk’s venerable Ring cycle, the Wagner Society of New York had asked two young boys, then nine and eleven, to review the operas. While they both named Siegfried as there favorite, they chose La bohème as the best choice for the first time opera goer. La bohème said the younger boy, came top because it is “not too long, it’s easy to follow and it’s fun. It’s very romantic so girls would like it too.”

Indeed, it was a performance of La bohème, when I was about their age that began my own life long love affair with opera. On Wednesday evening, the 1,253rd performance of La bohème at the Metropolitan Opera, I saw seated around me many people, of all ages, who were clearly new to the opera and perhaps also to the Met. They were clearly thrilled to be at the Met and enchanted by the tender love story with its glorious music, and the spectacular spectacle of this Franco Zeffirelli production.

Three artists make their Met debuts in this run – Anita Hartig, Jennifer Rowley and Nicolas Testé. Hartig has made rather a specialty of the role of Mimi and it shows. She gave a marvelous performance – portraying both the passion and the fragility of Puccini’s most sympathetic heroine. She has a lovely bell-like voice and excellent dynamic control (with some beautiful soft singing). She is also a fine actress. Her “Sono andati” was truly memorable.

Vittorio Grigolo sang with honeyed sweetness with a bloom at the upper end of his range. In act one, as Mimi and Rodolfo exchange information about their lives, both Hartig and Grigolo phrased in an almost conversational manner. However, unlike Hartig, Grigolo did not convince dramatically. Simply put, he overdid it. He seemed to settle down a bit in act three but, even in the final act, I missed the pathos that Joseph Calleja conveys in the role. Grigolo was out of synch with the conductor almost throughout the evening, most jarringly in act one.

J. Rowley (© Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

Zeffirelli’s taste for spectacle was fully apparently when the curtain rose on act two. There was an audible intake of breath followed by loud applause. It seemed as if every corner of the vast Metropolitan opera stage was awash with people and stage business. Former Met General Manager, Joseph Volpe, described this set as having 143 Parisian revelers, 24 street urchins, 19 soldiers, 14 vendors, a marching band of 12, two live animals (a donkey and a horse) and a fake bear. There is also a man on stilts.

Even among this tumult and distraction, Jennifer Rowley, making her house debut as Musetta, held the stage and our attention with her extraordinary stage presence. She captivated Marcello and the audience with a lush rendering of Musetta’s aria, “Quando me’n vo”. Her voice is dark and rich but also extremely flexible and clear. She is a fine and versatile actress. She has a talent for broad comedy (displayed in her act 2 interplay with Marcello) but she is also able to convey real emotion. In the death scene, Rowley made the shift believable – not always the case with this character.

While the set of act two captures the joie de vivre of the bohemians writ large, the set of act three – a gorgeous winter scene complete with falling snow – gives metaphysical dimension to Mimi’s illness and death. There is something almost Schubertian in this cold and almost barren landscape which evoked relentlessly encroaching death.

Massimo Cavalletti was convincing as a friend in need for Rodolfo and Mimi and as a jealous, besotted lover of Musetta. Patrick Carfizzi gave a fine performance as Schaunard; I particularly enjoyed his comic interactions with his fellow Bohemians in act one. Nicolas Testé, in a fine house debut, sang a somber “Vechia zimarra senti” with great tenderness and deep resonant sound. Philip Cokorinos was a suitably befuddled Alcindoro and Benoit but it felt strange indeed to see this opera without Paul Plishka.

Under maestro Stefano Ranzani, the glorious Met orchestra gave a splendid reading of Puccini’s ravishing score. Ranzani brought out Puccini’s rich palette of orchestral colors. The music was dramatic when called for and also delicate, as the orchestra played with aching tenderness.

There were tears in the audience when Mimi died but also celebration of a marvelous night at the opera. La bohème will be broadcast live from the MET in HD on 5 April. For the location of a cinema near you, please see the Met Opera website.

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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