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Puccini : BohemeNew York, Met, 2008 (Audio)
Director: Nicola Luisotti
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Met audiences have loved Franco Zeffirelli’s production of “La Bohème” for its overstuffed, hyper-realistic sets ever since the company first staged it in 1981, and critics have disparaged it for nearly as long, although the familiarity that comes with 27 years of repetition has eventually blunted the complaints.
It turns out that the Zeffirelli “Bohème” has had more performances than any other production in the Met’s history — 347 as of Saturday evening, when it returned for the first time this season — and the Met used the occasion to pay tribute to Mr. Zeffirelli after the second act.
That was the right time for it. The Latin Quarter scene that had just been played has all the hallmarks of Mr. Zeffirelli’s style, not least the detailed renderings of building facades, streetlamps and awnings, the cafe interior, and the hundreds of brightly costumed choristers, including children, filling every available inch of the stage.
For the tribute Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, and Mr. Zeffirelli joined that crowd, as did a handful of Met singers who were not in the production, including Rosalind Elias, Richard Stilwell, Lucine Amara, Eva Marton, Leona Mitchell and Justino Diaz. Mr. Gelb said that plaques honoring Mr. Zeffirelli for bringing “unsurpassed joy to millions of opera lovers” had been placed in the wings on either side of the stage.
The Puccini opera itself was given an understated but generally affecting performance. Ramón Vargas, as Rodolfo, produced a warm, buttery sound that he brightened somewhat to match the emotional temperature of the scene. Perhaps this fluidity of timbre created an unrealistic expectation, but his “Che gelida manina” was curiously tepid. He was more convincing in the third and fourth acts.
Angela Gheorghiu, in her first Mimi at the Met since 1996, also held back much of the time, but clearly with reason. She seemed intent on using both a focused but changeable timbre and control of dynamics to paint her frail character. And she had no trouble summoning power when she needed it, particularly in Mimi’s extended duet with Rodolfo in the third act.
These pastel accounts of Rodolfo and Mimi let Ainhoa Arteta stand out as an exceptionally colorful Musetta, whose spirited “Quando me’n vo” was notable for an appealingly old-fashioned suppleness. Ludovic Tézier contributed a strong portrayal of Marcello, with Oren Gradus as Colline, Quinn Kelsey as Schaunard and Paul Plishka as both Benoit and Alcindoro.
Nicola Luisotti, who will become music director of the San Francisco Opera in 2009, led a comfortably paced, thoughtfully balanced performance.