How many times can one watch La Boheme without being bored?. Apparently it is impossible to be bored by any halfway competent performance of Puccini’s masterpiece. Saturday’s HD performance of Zeffirelli’s venerable staging from the Met was better than the minimum level necessary to ward off ennui. It’s been performed so many times at the Met that if the singers and musicians pause for just a moment the production will do the opera on its own. When the show is finally set aside it should be sent to the Smithsonian where it can do La Boheme in an endless loop for the whole world do enjoy on visits to the nation’s capitol.
The performance was certainly worth the $22 price. I wouldn’t have paid $300 for it. Parts of the staging work better on the big screen than in the house. The first and last acts are set in a tiny garret set far back from the front of the stage and very high. In the house the Bohemian’s apartment is too far from the audience for comfortable viewing. On TV there’s no problem as the camera zooms close in. Zeffirelli seems to have taken Yakima Canutt’s staging of the chariot race in Ben Hur as his inspiration for the second act. There were more people onstage than were at all the Iowa caucuses. Here again the big screen was useful.
Angela Gheorghiu was fine as Mimi, though the closeup was not her friend. She’s at an age where she’s got all the voice and experience she needs for the part, but not where she can sustain a point of view a few feet from her face. This would not have been a problem if you were in the auditorium 100 feet from her rather than 2000 miles away. Vocally, she’s got the part down cold.
Ramón Vargas has graduated from bel canto to Puccini without much trouble. He has a lush tenor that is more secure at its top than it was earlier in his career. But his high notes are still a bit tentative. The best singing came from Ludovic Tézier as Marcello. He also acted the part convincingly. I’d like to hear him in a bigger part. Ainhoa Arteta was a vivacious Musetta. Paul Pliska in his 1524th Met appearance was effective as Benoit and almost invisible as Alcindoro in the commotion of Act 2. As a meteorological aside, what were all those people doing outside on Christmas Eve in Paris where the average temperature on that day is about freezing? This issue of temperature is especially noteworthy as the Bohemians spent most of the first act kvetching about how cold it was indoors.
Oren Gardus made almost nothing of Colline’s big moment – the Coat Song. Quinn Kelsey conversely made as much as possible of the sixth Bohemian, Schaunard. Nicola Luisotti who is as breezy as a balloon conucted very well, which is to say you paid little attention to him. All and all, a good show. I suspect that the thousands of people seeing La Boheme for the first time loved it.
Finally, its hard to swallow a story about starving young Parisian proto-hippies who look like poster boys for the metabolic syndrome. Well, two of them did – Vargas and Kelsey.