Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Io spero ancora: La Bohème charms again

Cafe scene from Act II, Susanna Phillips as Musetta (c) Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera
Despite disappointment at last year's La Bohème, I went again on Tuesday, and I'm glad I did. My own enjoyment of the evening was augmented considerably by the fact that I was there in the company of a friend for whom this was her first opera. She loved it, and having someone to comment in the intervals on how impressive the street scene was, or how beautiful the lovers' reconciliation under the snow, helped me appreciate it as well. The "business" in Franco Zeffirelli's apparently deathless production seemed less fussy to me this year, too. Louis Langrée led the orchestra in a beautifully sensitive reading of the score, with nice shaping of phrases and real delicacy of touch. I was happy to hear the music receive the attention to detail I think it deserves (I still await a performance of Bohème where I actually hear the final chords of each act.) The quality of the vocal performances ranged from respectable to excellent; the latter adjective is awarded, not lightly, to Hei-Kyung Hong's deeply-felt Mimi.

Hei-Kyung Hong as Mimi (c) Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

Before getting to the bohemians themselves, I should give honorable mention to Paul Plishka, who with the skills of a veteran and undimmed energy gave gleefully witty characterizations of Benoit and Alcindoro. I was particularly interested by the fact that, in Plishka's reading, Alcindoro appears to be balanced between exasperation and resignation from the outset, perhaps berating himself for the choices that have resulted in his association with Musetta, whom Murger describes as "extremely flirtatious, somewhat ambitious, and not at all refined." Susanna Phillips, as Musetta, combined these qualities with the underlying sweetness and sympathy which Puccini's music gives her. A vivid stage presence, Phillips wielded her agile soprano gracefully, sensitive to the charm with which Musetta's music is imbued. Patrick Carfizzi, as Schaunard, handled the demands of the role's conversational style well. Matthew Rose was an endearing Colline whose gravitas seemed more reticence than pomposity. His fine attention to text was an asset, especially in an understated, thoughtful "Vecchio zimarra, senti." Alexey Markov has a pleasing, plangent baritone, but his Marcello was less than idiomatic, and his dramatic portrayal oddly monochromatic for the volatile painter. He did contribute fine singing in his crucial Act III scene with Mimi; I just never felt that his performance took life.

Dimitri Pittas' Rodolfo sounded effortful, although he was considerably stronger from Act III onwards. I worried for him at the outset, as his phrasing was not easy and his top, especially, sounded constrained. Notwithstanding, he sang with commendable commitment, and he found more lyricism for his Act III scene with Mimi, which was quite touching. Does "quite touching" actually mean "I suddenly found myself crying half-choked tears into my handkerchief"? ...Yes. This is due largely to the radiant Mimi of Hei-Kyung Hong. Hong has a voice of remarkable beauty, and her command of it was stunning; not a note or syllable was neglected. Her phrasing was lovely, and she found a rich palette of vocal color for the passion of the fragile flower-seller. "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" was spellbinding, and Act III made me ache for her. Her dramatic portrayal was equally thoughtful; in Act I, she captivated me as well as Rodolfo with her charming flirtation. The yearning with which she infused "Niuno è solo l'april" was reflected in pale hands clutching at her lover's jacket. I teared up again when she stretched out her arms to Rodolfo in the orchestral lead-in to "Sono andati," by the end of which my friend and I were both openly weeping. We grieved with the bohemians ("I wasn't expecting her to actually die!" said my friend afterwards) but rejoiced as audience members. Here is Hong's beautiful Mimi in 1995, from a concert performance:


  1. Guilty confession: I've never actually seen La Boheme. My mom, sister and I are shamelessly bullying my dad into getting us tickets in December, but he's notoriously anti-all opera besides Mozart. Which...In any case, I really want to see this opera. I love Mimi's costume; it looks like something out of a Burton film. Hei-Kyung Hong is lovely.

  2. @Christie If it makes you feel better, I'd seen a Ring and two Tristans before I got to Boheme. My dad is mostly against opera, unless it can have Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in it, so I know the feeling of frustration, but wish you good luck with the collective persuasion!

    Now that you've mentioned Burton in connection with the slightly quirky exaggeration of the women's costumes, I can totally see it--fun! And Hong really is lovely. It looks as though Berlin is getting the also-radiant Anja Harteros as Mimi!! That settles it, just tell Siegvater you have to go. Send him YouTube videos of her singing Mozart.

  3. @Lucy: Siegvater? Oh, I am so going to use that...Yes, I will sic Ms. Harteros on him. Her singing Mozart should definitely do it.

  4. @Christie: Your father is a wise and discerning man and if I correctly recall your fondness for Fidelio those traits seem to run in the family.

    As for Boheme, bitte keine Sorgen. Its so ubiquitous that one can easily take it for granted. Even so fastidious and inquiring an opera attendee (a Scholar of Singing, even) as our own Hostess has neglected besuchening a Vorstellung heretofore. And while Boheme has many charms, one must admit that not every performance is as tempting as Lucy's vivid review suggests this one might have been. Still when the casting is sufficiently strong its worth a looksee and I myself have been compelled to attend several performances in recent years (couldn't this year 'cause one can only take so many Bohemes in so short a space of time).

    If you can see it with die Harters run, don't walk. (I hope to see her selber with some luck and lets hope for all our sakes she won't be doing any sagening ab as has recently been her wont).

  5. @Christie See, you have to go and tell us All About It. :)

    @marcillac Schön, Sie wieder hier zu sehen, especially auf denglisch. Will wish you safe travels and good adventures (operatic and otherwise) in Europe!

  6. @marcillac: Hey, I listen/go to lots of operas! And I've never seen "Fidelio" live, either. But yes, it is my favorite.

    @Lucy: Tickets to Boheme are on their way...

  7. @Christie: Kidding. Enthusiasm for Mozart and Fidelio not to exclusion of whole bunch of other stuff. Naturlich you should remedy the Fidelio omission sofort .

    @Frau Doktorin Professorin Lucy: Halten Sie bitte mit dem Sieing, please (sic). This is the Internets not the Spanish Court Ceremonial, for St. Lorenzo's sake.

    Speaking of which, my "European" adventures are to include occasional Reise zuruck nach den USA. The Frau Doktorin Professorin can easily stellt sich vor my bremsenlos Horror when I ausgefunden hat that the first is to coincide with dates on which I have much sought and ganz unerhatlich Karten for the Harteros/Kaufmann/Pape Don Carlos. Have to extricate self from predicament. Hope (especially with Faust coming up) not to have Verhandlungen mit dem Teufel. Of course singer singing Teufel sings Filippo ( who himself makes a deal with the Devil - or is it the Grand Inquisitor). Am confused now.

  8. @Christie Hooray!

    @marcillac Ok, einverstanden, ich geb's auf! Das ceremonial of the internet ist immer ein ticklish thing. Eine solche scheduling snafu would seem to be an occasion for an opera chorus standing around and saying "Ha! entsetzlich!" or "Quale orror!" nach Wunsch. Maybe schliessing a Pakt with Rene Pape would be required to settle it all.


Start a conversation!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...