I admit it, I never have been that crazy about everybody’s favorite opera, La Bohème. And it’s not mere snobbishness: I love everybody’s other favorite opera, Carmen. I guess where I get off the train with La Bohème is that first scene where they try to keep themselves warm by setting fire to a musical score. Hello, a score? That won’t keep them warm for long enough to get back to the chair. As Mrs. Buce says, they’d be a lot better off setting fire to the chair. Either Puccini didn’t know anything about garret life, or he’s being willfully facetious—I guess I lean to the latter.
All this is by way of saying how much I liked the Met the production that I saw live via satellite this morning (sic) here in Palookaville. It’s one of those new Met HD simulcasts that I’m so entranced with. It’s not perfect: Puccini still insists on hitting you with a baseball bat and in the midst of all the romantic misunderstandings, I keep reflecting on how much better these people could have functioned with just a little bit of counseling. Still, I must say that Angela Gheorghiu is as convincing a Mimi as you are likely to get, Yes, Gheorghiu—she’s got a peachy keen voice which I know she doesn’t always present with the discipline she needs, but this time she was more careful and thoughtful than ever I’ve seen her before.. Earlier in the day on the radio, I happened to hear a compare-and-contrast between Ghoerghiu and Maria Netrebko, and on Mimi, I’d give the palm to Gheorghiu. And for my money, Ramón Vargas is as good a Rudolfo as you could hope for. I see the New York Times thought him just so-so. Well, no accounting for taste: I thought him his mix of winsome, warm-hearted and just slightly bewildered was all you could ask for in this particular role. I’d love to see him try the same approach to Elixir of Love, although I suppose that role takes a bit more by way of wit.
And the Zefirelli set—well, I can see why they might have tired of it at Lincoln Center after 347 performances, but here in Palookaville—and tricked up with a lot of HD camera work—it was fresh and exciting. Fact is, I’m pretty much of a sucker for just about any Zefirelli set. I suppose they are beginning to look dated in the age of post- postmodernism but hey, then, so am I.
I still get tired of Puccini way sooner than he gets tired of himself. I guess it explains something that the one I really like is Gianni Schicchi, a one-actor and only remotely a romance. Witty and acerb with a lot of (then) new musical tricks, it gives you a chance of what he could do when he wanted to. Meantime, if I have to see La Bohème again—and if I keep on hanging around opera houses, the chances are pretty good that I will, then I hope it is at least half as good as this one.