Friday, March 19, 2010

La Bohéme at the Met

I’ve already written extensively about how beautiful the Metropolitan Opera House is in New York City. Still, I am impressed with its grandeur on each visit. This was our third visit this season, and I feel that this is a pattern that will continue for Dan and I for years to come. Seeing opera in this amazing hall makes the spectacle of the stage all the more appealing and you can’t help but feel as though you are amongst the cream of the crop when the curtain opens.

We saw the Zeffirelli staging of La Bohéme this past Wednesday night and were treated to some of the most amazing sets I’ve ever seen. The only thing that may have topped it was Turandot back in November, also a Zeffirelli production. I hear that these lavish stagings are slowly being phased out by the Met because of the enormous cost involved in showing them. La Bohéme involves a horse drawn carriage with a real horse, lavish costumes, and four multi-story sets. The short second act has the most elaborate set of all and includes a parade through “town” by a full batallion of soldiers just before the curtain closes. WOW!

It turns out that the Zeffirelli La Bohéme is also the most performed production at the Met since it first premiered in 1981. The Met has the reputation of selling out its seats for no matter who is singing, so often many young and relatively unknown singers end up starring in the difficult roles.

We were lucky that in the most recent revival of La Bohéme the singers are amazing, although I felt as though they could have spoken their roles and I would have been equally as impressed due to the extravagent production values. Anna Netrebko sang a beautiful Mimi and Ruth Anne Swenson’s Musetta was wonderfully delivered. Piotr Beczala was a sensitive and lyrical Rudolfo with never-failing control on the many difficult and rangey long lines that the part demands. George Petean’s Marcello was full of energy and Oren Gradus sang a wonderful “Coat Aria”.

I have seen La Bohéme a few times now, and I am still swept away with the storyline each time. The first act delivers some of the most beautiful music that Puccini ever wrote, and those themes dominate the rest of the opera. I usually start tearing up about twenty minutes in and remain misty until Mimi finally gasps her last breaths at the end of act four. Indeed, I saw many of my fellow audience members leaving the theater with red eyes and/or runny make-up. It’s an opera that I will never tire of seeing on the stage or listening to at home full of fantastic sweeping orchestral gestures and soaring lyrical vocal lines. For me, it epitomizes the operatic stage. I think many would be inclined to agree as it’s kept opera houses full since it premiered over a hundred years ago in 1896.

From a personal standpoint, La Bohéme especially appeals to me because of the artistic and hedonistic themes that permeate the work. All of the characters are passionate and tortured artists in their own right and there is a huge emphasis on culinary delights. The characters live on love in poorer times, and when they have money, they spend it on feasting and drinking. Much of the opera, in fact, takes place around a simple dinner table or in a café, and I can easily identify with the singers on stage due to my own love for the arts, my capricious temperament, and, of course, my obsession over food and wine.

The Zeffirelli production of La Bohéme is a must see. If you can get to New York before the run ends, do it! There is nothing to regret about seeing it live and if you can’t make it there in person, there is a 1977 video recording that is worth checking out starring the late great Pavarotti and the beautiful Renata Scotto. If you do make the pilgrimage to the Met, spend the money for amazing seats, or enjoy the bargain priced “Family Circle” seats that we opted for. The acoustics there are such that there are really no bad seats. You’ll have a fabulous evening of amazing music and awe-inspiring scenery either way.

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