Reviewed by James Karas
A few hundred thousand people around the globe were treated to another revival of Franco Zeffirelli’s production of La Bohème beamed to them directly from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Most of them were unlikely to have seen the premier of this production in 1981 because they were not born then, were not in New York or could not afford the price of admission even if they were.
The Met has made up for lost time and opportunities for many of us to see Zeffirelli’s take on the opera by broadcasting the production in 2008, 2011 and 2014 with stellar casts. This year’s cast is no less stellar with soprano Sonya Yoncheva as Mimi and Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo.
We may imagine Mimi as an ill-nourished flower embroiderer who faints after she knocks on Rodolfo’s door because her candle went out. Some of that is true but Yoncheva’s Mimi has a twinkle in her eye and she is not frail. I think she sees what she wants in Rodolfo and goes after him in her sweet, humble way and they both find love and happiness at least to the end of Act II.
Yoncheva does have a beautiful voice and the familiar stops from “Me chiamano Mimi” to happy moments to her heart wrenching death at the end of Act IV are done with vocal splendor and touching expressiveness. Her lover Rodolfo is in the capable hands and vocal chords of tenor Michael Fabiano. He is youthful, ardent, vocally well-equipped and we love his love, his foolishness and his belated reconciliation with Mimi with pleasure and tears. Familiarity breeds appreciation.
The flirtatious, fun-loving, man-abusing Musetta is sung by Susanna Philips who has done the role almost countless times. She shows no fatigue and attacks her part with relish. She arrives at the crowded scene in the café, takes control, flirts with her former lover Marcello and takes the foolish Alcindoro (the aging Paul Plishka) for all he is worth.
Rodolfo’s three friends deserve special mention and not just for their vocal talents. Lucas Meachem as Marcello, Alexey Lavrov as Schaunard and Matthew Rose as Colline interact superbly and show true friendship. Tomfoolery and humanity combine to make the four friends a pleasure to watch and hear.
Franco Zeffirelli’s production may well be opera as imagined by many but achieved much less frequently in recent productions in general. It is not exactly “thrift, thrift” as Hamlet would say, that causes more modest sets but a charge in tastes. Yet Zeffirelli’s extravaganzas are still produced to the delight of many. The scene in the Café Momus in Act II recreates a whole neighborhood on the Left Bank of Paris. You get a horse-drawn carriage, a donkey-drawn cart, a crowd of people on two levels and a carnival atmosphere of great excitement. Over the top? You bet.
Marco Armiliato conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Matthew Diamond directed the production for the movie houses and did so sensibly without treating the opera like a video game.
La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini was transmitted Live in HD on February 24, 2018 at the Cineplex Cinemas, Scarborough Town Centre, 300 Borough Drive, Scarborough, ON, M1P 4P5, (416) 290-5217 and other theatres across Canada. There will be encore broadcasts on April 7, 9, 11, 15 and May 5, 2018. For more information: www.cineplex.com/events
A scene from Act II of Puccini’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Brigitta Kele as Musetta and Lucas Meachem as Marcello in Puccini’s La Bohème. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera