A Memorably Symphonic La Bohème In Valencia

SpainSpain  Puccini, La Bohème:  Orchestra Comunitat Valenciana, Choir Generalitat Valenciana, Riccardo Chailly (conductor). Valencia’s Palau de Les Arts 2.12.2012. (JMI)

New Production: Palau de les Arts in coproduction with Philadelphia Opera Company
Direction: Davide Livermore
Sets and Lighting: Davide Livermore
Costumes: Palau de Les Arts

Mimí: Gal James
Rodolfo: Aquiles Machado
Marcello: Massimo Cavalletti
Musetta: Carmen Romeu
Colline: Gianluca Buratto
Schaunard: Mattia Olivieri
Benoit: Matteo Peirone
Alcindoro: Andrea Snarski

The main interest of this performance of La Bohème was not on the stage of the Palau de Les Arts, but in the pit, where we had Riccardo Chailly, undoubtedly one of the greatest conductors of our time. Expectations of the performance were naturally very high and the results lived up to them nicely.

Riccardo Chailly offered a very personal version of Puccini’s masterpiece. I would venture to say that he produced a symphonic reading of the opera and if anything  characterized his version it was the great fluidity of the whole opera, where the singers were simply extra musicians on stage. There were no stops and goes or particular singing traditions here, but a musical version of outstanding energy and fluidity.

My idea  in saying that the reading was “symphonic” is due to the fact  that there were no concessions to  the singers, although they  were always well supported by Chailly, despite the fact that they had to sing in a different ways than they are used to. Chailly’s tempi were very much alive, but the emotion was there, when needed, and the sound coming out from the pit was outstanding. In short, this was a magnificent musical version, justifying the presence of a truly great conductor at the pit. Its duration of only1 hour and 41 minutes shows that this was a very personal reading too. But despite the vividness of the tempi, there was no haste with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the music. The Orchestra was at their very best and the same can be said of the chorus

The stage production had its premiere at Philadelphia last month and bears the signature of Davide Livermore, who was also responsible for the set design and lighting. Mr.Livermore presents  the opera as a kind of tribute to 19th century painting, with plenty of Impressionist painting projections, and also including works by Van Gogh and others lent by Philadelphia Museum itself. The actual presence of the paintings seems to have no other rationale than the fact that Marcello is a painter in the opera. The sets are very much based on projections, using the walls, mainly the one to the left of the viewer for the projections. In the first act , I found them rather  annoying, not for lack of quality, but because of the many changes of the paintings  distracted attention  from the action and music. The third act was much better which had a  snowy landscape of great beauty. The second act gave us 19th century Impressionist paintings of Paris, with very fast changes of scene  based wholly  on lighting.

The stage direction was quite traditional and only the buffo atmosphere  that Mr. Livermore offers at  Café Momus felt somewhat unconvincing,  where a couple of waiters, who performed ceaseless pirouettes,  were again rather distracting. The homage to painting extended even to the stage, with ballerinas straight out of Degas. Overall then, this was attractive traditional production, with too many projections for my taste.

The cast did not offer big names, as  is becoming more and more usual at the Palau de Les Arts and I suspect that the truth is that divos on stage  would have been incompatible with a Chailly in the pit.

Israeli soprano  Gal James was  too light a Mimì, with a rather small  soprano which would have been better suited to Musetta. It was  surprised to discover  that she has already sang Manon Lescaut and Chrysothemis in Graz, because to my mind her  voice is more a  Susanna than a Countess. She is in fact a good singer, but needs  more vocal weight is to move tan audience as  Mimì.

Aquiles Machado showed off a voice well suited for Rodolfo. His singing was much  different than what I heard from him some years ago, but he did rather  a good job, except at the top of the tessitura.

Massimo Cavalletti was a good Marcello, with an attractive voice, although I found his singing slightly coarse hear and there and have seen better performances from him in the past.

Carmen Romeu made for a good Musetta, but with too little vocal contrast with Mimì. Gianluca Buratto was in  somewhat rough voice as Colline, with a fairly unmemorable  Vecchia Zimarra. Mattia Olivieri offered an interesting voice as Schaunard.

José Mª. Irurzun