Saturday, April 12, 2014


Reviewed by James Karas

The garret that Franco Zeffirelli built in 1981 for those starving artists seems to have been made of sturdy stuff. Thirty four years later The Met has revived his production of La Bohème yet once more and one can say with some assurance that there was not a dry eye at Lincoln Centre and in the theatres around the world where it was beamed.  

Opera thrives on legends and marvelous statistics and the April 5, 2014 broadcast added yet another tale. Soprano Anita Hartig was scheduled to sing Mimi but she became indisposed on the morning of the performance. Kristine Opalais had sung Madam Butterfly the night before and had gone to bed at 5:00 a.m. (Precision is important in these cases) and was called at 8:00 in the morning (if I recall correctly) to replace Ms Hartig. She wanted to say no but she said yes and the rest is history, and let’s get on with the review.

Opalais is a young but experienced singer who knows the role of Mimi (the legend would be juicier if a young and inexperienced soprano stepped in and a Maria Callas was born … sorry, I stray) and she had no problems vocally.

With Opalais you will not get a petite, fragile and ill-nourished Mimi but that is not crucial. My issue with Opalais is that she almost never looked anyone in the eye. This may have been nerves or concentration on the singing after being ushered to do the performance rather unceremoniously but I would have liked her to look at Rodolfo or his friends. She looked down, sideways or nowhere in particular and not on her lover or anyone else that she was interacting with. When she separates from Rodolfo in Act III, she shows more emotion to the bannister than to Rodolfo.

Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo is a superb Rodolfo. He strikes the perfect note of youthful innocence, passion and idealism. When he takes Mimi’s cold hand and tells her his dreams in “Che gelida manina” we are convinced of his rising passion even before she tells us her sad story in “Me chiamano Mimi” and the ardent duet that follows, full of emotional intensity and vocal splendour, is payment in full for tears that we will shed at the end.

American soprano Susanna Philips attacked the juicy role of Musetta with relish and aplomb. The vocal part is all her own but she has plenty of help otherwise. Dressed in a striking red velvet gown, she arrives on a horse-drawn carriage amid a large, cheering crowd. That is a grand entrance to make the Queen of Sheba jealous.

Rodolfo’s garret-mates are a well-defined individually and are a marvelous set as well. Baritone Massimo Cavalletti as Marcello sang with touching resonance and presented the artist as a real mensch. Bass Oren Gradus as the philosopher Colline gave a moving rendition of “Vecchia zimarra,” his farewell to his old coat, an act of touching generosity.

Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as the musician Schaunard completed the quartet of friends who engaged in tomfoolery and poignant humanity.

Zeffirelli’s over-the-top production has been the subject of endless comment. The garret of the first act gives way to the Café Momus. In fact, Zeffirelli creates a whole neighbourhood. There are crowds of people on two levels, a toy vendor, a donkey-drawn cart and Musetta’s entrance. I have seen the production a number of times and it still makes an impression on me. Seeing it for the first time, may make your jaw drop and give you a slanted view of opera.

Stefano Ranzani conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

What we saw in the movie theatres was decided by Barbara Willis Sweete. Her enthusiasm for close-ups and constant camera changes is not as pronounced as Gary Halvorson’s (and that’s not much of a compliment) but it is bad enough. There were a number of bad shots, unnecessary and annoying close-ups. In the final scene, when Marcello is singing about his brush, Sweete focuses on Rodolfo. The obvious shot of showing the two men on the screen and sitting on her hands probably did not occur to her. Just keep clicking.

La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini was transmitted Live in HD on April 5, 2014 at the Coliseum Scarborough Cinemas, Scarborough Town Centre, 300 Borough Drive, Scarborough, ON, M1P 4P5, (416) 290-5217 and other theatres across Canada.  For more information:        

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