Puccini’s La Bohème was performed by the Met today for the 465,196,276,982,653rd time in a performance telecast to beyond the Andromeda galaxy. The opera is so popular that even where I live, at the end of the line, it’s been done multiple times.
A cursory search of the internet shows that the work has been performed by the Himalayan Marionettes, Weinberg’s Performing Seals (conducted by a walrus), the Marine Corps Marching Band, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (they do it in Esperanto), the Taiko Drummers of Japan, the American Automobile Association, the Golden State Warriors, Fredericks of Hollywood, the Service International Employees Union, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the American Kennel Club, Boris & Bea’s Bed and Breakfast, Con Ed of Lake Louise, The United States Penitentiary – Administrative Maximum Facility, the Bronx Zoo, the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant, the Puente Hill Landfill and Park, and by the Palo Duro Winter Music Festival. Other less prominent venues have also performed the opera. YouTube has them all.
The theater which shows the Met’s HD telecasts usually has 10 to 20 viewers per show. Today is was packed with popcorn munching seniors and their walkers. I felt young again. There were also about 30 college students who had been dragged to the broadcast by their Western Civilization professor. Western Civ persists at the end of the line even if no where else. Half of the students snuck into Jumanji during the first intermission. I forswore the popcorn in favor of my La Bohème baloney sandwich and La Bohème chocolate covered peanuts which I had smuggled into the theater in defiance of its no outside food dictum. On my way home I listened to La Bohème on my car radio which plays it 24 hours a day on all stations.
The Met had announced next year’s season. It consists of 285 consecutive performances of La Bohème. At a price of up to $380 a pop they have to move the tickets. I may get a Monday night eight performance subscription. It comes with a discount card for 10% off the pre-dinner special at the adjacent La Bohème brasserie and a first class upgrade on American Eagle soon to be renamed La Bohème Airlines.
My parrot, Groucho, announced shortly after I returned home from the HD telecast that he intends to add the opera to his repertoire. Of course, he’ll sing all the roles. Despite all my arguments, he insists on taking the high C in ‘Che gelida manina’ down a half tone to a B. Also, when I asked Alexa if anything was new about La Bohème, she told me that the Democrats plan to nationalize it if they take back congress as well as to provide free La Bohème for the middle class.
So how was the show? It was La Bohème; how could it be anything but good? Franco Zeffirelli’s sets, modeled on the Great Pyramid of Khufu and now nearly as old, still garnered applause from the audience which is also almost as old as Khufu’s tomb. By the standard of the previous 1316 stagings of the opera (I exaggerated above), it was a solid B. Stage Director Gregory Keller messed up the second act spectacular such that Musetta’s and Marcello’s reconciliation got no applause. It takes a lot of know how to screw up this scene, but Keller managed. It didn’t help that soprano Susanna Phillips gave a weak rendition of Musetta’s famous aria. She also seemed to think that seductive acting consisted solely of of lifting her skirt and wagging her ample petticoats.
Sonya Yoncheva acted a satisfactory Mimì; she wasn’t helped by Matthew Diamond’s closeups. Vocally she was first rate. She has a rich lirico-spinto soprano that is under perfect control. If she can up her acting, both visual and vocally, she could be an outstanding Mimì. A note of caution, if you listen to Yoncheva’s voice at full throttle you can hear the wisp of a wobble that could become a problem as her career progresses.
Tenor Michael Fabiano has, arguably, the most beautiful tenor voice now active. What he lacks are high notes that ping and a strong sense of emotional commitment. He’s young and has a good stage presence. If he puts the whole tenorial package together he could be a major player on all the world’s great operatic stages.
Lucas Meachem has sung 30 performances at the Met starting in 2007, mostly as Silvio in Pagliacci and as Marcello . His voice is ample and has a rich bright sound. He appeared underparted as Marcello. I’d like to hear him in a Verdi role. He seems ready for a lot of them.
I’ve already mentioned Susanna Phillipps. She has a pleasant demeanor and a nice, light voice that’s a little short on top. I think she should rethink how she plays Musetta.
Bass Matthew Rose was an imposing presence as Colline. I thought his Coat Song lacking in volume, but the live audience seemed to like it. Alexey Lavrov made as much as possible of Schaunard. Paul Plishka appeared for the 1669th time at the Met as Benoit and Alcindoro. I didn’t see him return to get the bill at the end of the 2nd act, perhaps I missed his reappearance. He’s now old enough to play the Pharaoh in Aida without benefit of makeup. He’s been with the company since 1967.
Marco Armiliato led a competent performance from both singers and players, but nothing remarkable. So I’m ready for the next HD telecast in 2 weeks which I’m told will not be La Bohème.
Metropolitan Opera House
February 24, 2018
Giacomo Puccini-Luigi Illica/Giuseppe Giacosa
Set designer…………Franco Zeffirelli
Costume designer……..Peter J. Hall
Lighting designer…….Gil Wechsler
Stage Director……….Gregory Keller
Video Director……….Matthew Diamond