Zeffirelli’s Met Production of La bohème Still Delights

27/02/2018

Puccini, La bohème: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York / Marco Armiliato (Conductor). Broadcast live to the Dundonald Omniplex Cinema, Belfast, from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, 24.2.2018. (RB)

Sonya Yoncheva (Mimì) & Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) (c) Ken Howard

Cast:

Mimì – Sonya Yoncheva
Musetta – Susanna Phillips
Rodolfo – Michael Fabiano
Marcello – Lucas Meachem
Schaunard – Alexey Lavrov
Colline – Matthew Rose
Benoit/Alcindoro – Paul Plishka

Production:

Production – Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer – Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designer – Peter J Hall
Lighting Designer – Gil Wechsler
Revival Stage Director – Gregory Keller

Live in HD Director – Matthew Diamond
Live in HD Host – Kelli O’Hara

This was a revival of Zeffirelli’s epic 1981 production of La bohème which has had more performances than any other production in the history of the Met.  The vast two-storey set depicting the Café Momus in Act II, with its enormous cast of extras, colourful costumes and marching band, still has the power to take the breath away. The audience broke into a spontaneous round of applause when the curtain came back to reveal the stunning set. The visually sumptuous snowscape in Act III provided the perfect backdrop to Puccini’s anguished and heartfelt music while the garret rooms overlooking Parisian rooftops looked like pictures from a story book.

One of the things which so entrances audiences about this opera is the breadth of humanity we witness from all the characters. Rodolfo is both jealous and tender towards Mimì, Marcello is hot headed but with a heart of gold while Musetta is a manipulative grifter who nevertheless sells her earrings to buy medicine for Mimì. Any performance stands or falls by the way it portrays Puccini’s immortal cast of characters in all their flawed humanity. This production gave us a rich, multi-faceted portrayal moving seamlessly from jostling and horseplay to tenderness and heartbreak, all the while allowing us to fall in love with the characters all over again.

Michael Fabiano and Sonya Yoncheva both excelled in the roles of Alfredo and Violetta in last year’s production of La traviata at the Met (review click here). I am pleased to say that they were equally good here in the roles of Rodolfo and Mimì. Yoncheva brought a nuanced fragility and reserve to Mimì which seemed to enhance her allure.  Her rendition of ‘Si, mi chiamano Mimì’ was ravishing and she showed extraordinary control as she caressed Puccini’s long phrases while remaining attentive to the words. Her voice soared in the Act II café scene while she injected emotional anguish into Act III. The final scene where her life ebbed away was deeply moving without being saccharine. Rodolfo is one of Fabiano’s signature roles and he showed extraordinary technical polish and control throughout. He invested ‘Che gelida manina’ with gorgeous vocal colours and blazed with a hot intensity when the composer demanded it. His final cries of ‘Mimì, Mimì’ were full of heartbreak and I doubt if there was a dry eye left in the house.  On a couple of occasions, Fabiano strained a little with top notes – they did not quite have the bell-like clarity which he showed us in Traviata – although this is a minor quibble in what was otherwise a first-rate performance.

The sparring between Marcello and Musetta provided a striking contrast with the besotted Rodolfo and Mimì. Susanna Phillips gave a glowing account of Musetta’s famous waltz from Act II. The vocal line was very smooth and seemed to glide along and she captured the lilt of the waltz perfectly. Lucas Meachem gave us a virile portrayal of Marcello and his singing was rock solid. He blended well with the other characters in the ensemble numbers and I particularly enjoyed his duet with Fabiano in the final Act. Matthew Rose’s Colline was gruff, introspective and kind-hearted. A few of his vocal entries could have been a little more polished but he gave a moving performance of ‘Vecchia zimarra’ which had an intimacy which fitted the final scene well. Alexey Lavrov produced some of the biggest laughs of the evening in the role of Schaunard and his vocal entries were well executed.

Conductor, Marco Armiliato, ensured the singers and orchestra remained on track throughout the evening. He brought a lightness and transparency to the more comical elements in Puccini’s score while the love scenes swelled with emotion. Armiliato ensured there was a good balance between the singers and the orchestra and he remained flexible to the vocal entries. The transitions between the comic and more serious scenes were particularly well handled: the shift between the comic scenes in the final act and the subsequent arrival of Mimì was particularly striking.

Overall, this was another great evening of music making from the Metropolitan Opera with the plaudits going to Fabiano and Yoncheva.

Robert Beattie        

For more about Met Live in HD in 2017-18 click here.

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