A Foursome of Mimís in Barcelona

SpainSpain Giacomo Puccini: La bohème: Soloists, Orquestra and Chorus Gran Teatre del Liceu, Victor Pablo Pérez (conductor), Barcelona’s Liceu, 12, 13, 15, 16.3.2012. (JMI)

Production: Teatro Real Madrid

Direction: Giancarlo del Monaco (original), Carniti (revival)
Sets and Costumes: Michael Scott
Lighting: Ulrich Niepel


Mimí: Fiorenza Cedolins / María José Siri / Maria Luigia Borsi / Angela Gheorghiu
Rodolfo: Ramón Vargas / Teodor Ilincai / Saimir Pirgu
Marcello: Christopher Maltman / George Petean / Borja Quiza / Ángel Ódena
Musetta: Ainhoa Arteta / Ainhoa Garmendia / Eliana Bayón
Colline: Carlo Colombara / Felipe Bou
Schaunard: Gabriel Bermúdez / Manel Esteve Madrid
Benoit / Alcindoro: Valeriano Lanchas

Picture courtesy Liceu, © Antoni Bofill

La Bohème hasn’t been at the Liceu in 10 years, where it had a run of 13 performances then. Now the Liceu scheduled no less than 18. That included four different casts; three of them in line with the usual casting quality (and associated price) and a fourth one, for just two performances, with Angela Gheorghiu as the headliner. Most performances were sold out, including, of course, those with Ms. Gheorghiu.

The production hasn’t changed since 2001, it’s still Giancarlo del Monaco’s, which premiered at Teatro Real over 13 year ago. Its main attraction consists of the stage-change in full sight for the second act, with a spectacular Latin Quarter. The very traditional third act is also enjoyable, not the least thanks to excellent lighting. Least interesting are the acts in the attic, which are superficial and with superadded details of highly questionable taste. Still, it’s a production well suited to attract new, none-too-experimental audiences to the theater.

The last performance I attended, meanwhile, seemed to have the signature of Angela Gheorghiu stamped on the direction. The Romanian diva did on stage what ever she wanted to, without regard to the original direction. Also novel was the newly found necessity for a prompter box on stage. Ms. Gheorghiu introduced changes in every one of the four acts, singing always at the center of the stage and in front of the prompter. In the last act she decided to wear her own top in white—perhaps because she thought it contrasted nicely with her black hair. Mr. Del Monaco probably knows best to grin and bear it.

The musical direction was entrusted to Victor Pablo Perez, whose presence in the pit was rather surprising, since he is not a conductor much specialized in this repertoire. He had his moments. Stage and pit were well under control and Maestro Perez always supported the singers, who were never covered by the orchestra, even where their voices were rather small. Chamber music-like delicacy permeated his interpretation, but sadly it came at the expense of “Puccini”: It missed some of that ostentatious emotion so essential in this opera. The Liceu Orchestra performed well—indeed above average—under his baton. Just as the reading was uneventful, so was, in the good sense, the execution.

Her performance was a popular triumph, although I do not share the sentiment. There’s no question that she has a beautiful voice. She is an excellent actress, she has an enviable figure, and she knows how to bargain with those assets. Her Mimi is really good, if you can overlook the ego on stage, and one has to look to singers like Tebaldi or Freni to find some that have done more and better with this character, in this theatre. Gheorghiu’s voice is not large, but well handled. The low register is very weak, and at the very top of the range hasn’t any particular ease, which was betrayed at the end of “O soave fancciulla”.The first cast Mimi was Fiorenza Cedolins, who had improved from my recent experiences with her. She sang with gusto, expressiveness, and even emotion. It is a pity that her voice is not what it was, because today she might be a reference soprano in this repertoire. María José Siri (of second cast) was a well suited soprano for the role of Mimi, credible on stage and showing a good line of singing. Where she falls short is in her inability to move well, which is a fundamental part of the character. Maria Luigia Borsi (third cast) was best in her deeply felt death scene. She is a lyric soprano of modest volume, with an impersonal and not very attractive timbre and a persistent, excessive vibrato, inappropriate for a singer her age. Angela Gheorghiu finally, and with apologies to Julius Caesar, veni, cecini, vici.

Ramón Vargas is an excellent singer and his voice is very attractive. These qualities are important, but not enough for of Rodolfo in a large house. Ramón Vargas’ voice is as beautiful as it is small in volume, and it gets even thinner at the top of the range. His success stems not in some small part from the sheer quality of his singing and his musicality. Still, Rodolfo is beyond his limits, however beautiful he can make it sound. Roberto Aronica, the second cast’s Rudolfo, cancelled and give young Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincai a chance to shine twice with his beautiful voice. His is one of those voices that immediately make the opera lover’s ears perk, if more for its potential than present quality. It’s not too large a voice, but easily able to reach everyone in the auditorium. There are notes in the passage work that leave something to be desired and the pitch is quite doubtful at times. He still has to mature and work on his lack of expressiveness, but if he carefully chooses his roles, we shall hear much more from him in the future.

Fourth-cast Rudolfo Saimir Pirgu, finally has one of the most beautiful voices that can be heard today, and naturally I was very curious to hear his Rodolfo. I was pleasantly surprised. His was the best-sung Rodolfo in this run of performances. It seems that he has been careful with the characters he is adding to his repertoire and I hope he will continue to be, since Rodolfo is at the limit of his current possibilities. Those limits will change, but easy does it!

All four different Marcellos were good, none exceptional. Christopher Maltman had no problems with the part, but I prefer him in different repertoire. George Peteán had problems in the first half to reach the auditorium, improving clearly in acts three and four. Borja Quiza was a lighter Marcello, with particularly weak low notes. He had other virtues that were remarkable, among them the beauty of timbre and expressiveness. Angel Ódena was impressive from a purely vocal point of view. But someone should tell him that he does not need to force volume, since his voice works much better when produced naturally.

Ainhoa ​​Arteta was the most important voice on stage. She is very comfortable with Musetta, but her voice is now more than right for Mimi. Second-cast Musetta Ainhoa ​​Garmendia was ​not bad, either. Her voice, which has gained weight in the center, is a little tight and dry at the top. Eliana Bayon was a lesser Musetta than that of her colleagues—she is more of a pure soubrette.

Carlo Colombara sang Colline’s aria with gusto and Felipe Bou wasn’t in his best vocal shape. Both Schaunards (Gabriel Bermudez, Manel Esteve Madrid) did a good job, and Valeriano Lanchas was an accomplished interpreter of Benoit and Alcindoro in all the performances.

Jose Mª Irurzun