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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 15 December 2009
Any reasonably decent performance of Bohéme will be so emotionally overwhelming that it will be very hard to be objective about it. But what might work well in the theatre may not seem to be quite so successful after repeated viewings on DVD. So it is perhaps right to pick up on one or two shortcomings, which are relatively minor when compared with the otherwise outstanding merits of this production.

Firstly the good things, though. This is a typical "Met" production in the best sense: good sets, costumes, principals, and chorus (and there are plenty of them). Now and then the conductor takes things a tiny bit too slowly for my taste but that doesn't detract much from what is a very fine performance in the pit. The acting is good, especially given that what might work well in the theatre doesn't always work too well on the small screen. It would be interesting to know whether anything was said to the cast about the fact that this performance was being recorded. Ludovic Tézier (Marcello) and Angela Gheorghiu (Mimi) in particular make quite a few tiny gestures which I would have thought wouldn't be perceptible to the audience but are very effective when seen in close-up. In fact Gheorghiu is the star of the show; she looks right, acts right and sings beautifully. That is not to take anything away from the other members of the cast, though, who are excellent in every way. It is pleasing to see Paul Plishka, a long-time stalwart of the Met, doubling the small parts of Benoit and Alcindoro. It is not his fault that he is not wholly successful in the second role, of which more anon.

So what's wrong with this production? As I have said, not much. To start with Alcindoro, though; I feel that he is let down by the camera work and/or the production itself. Although his is a small part a lot of fun can be drawn from the character. In other productions which I have seen he is physically bullied by Musetta and the Bohemians and, at the end of the Act, is presented with everyone's bill. Such opportunities are missed here. He isn't helped here, either, by the fact that he seems to get a bit lost amongst the crowd; mainly due, I think, to poor camera work.

Other reviewers have commented on the fact that at the end of each scene we are taken behind the curtain to see what is going on. Whilst this is undoubtedly interesting it is questionable as to how many times one would want to see this. Some might find it irritating, others not so. And after all you can simply skip through these sections if you don't want to see them yet again.

Having criticised the camera work I am sorry to say that the sound recording isn't perfect either. There are one or two occasions when the singer's voice changes suddenly when he or she turns round, or moves across the stage. This is presumably caused by the voice being picked up by different microphones but I would have thought it was something which ought to have been sorted out post-production.

All of the above detracts a little from what could otherwise be a virtually perfect performance. But then, perfection is something which can only be strived for but never actually achieved (although the Dessay/Florez account of "La Fille du Régiment" comes pretty close - but I digress). I find it hard to imagine that in the real world this performance of Bohéme on DVD will be bettered.

This is a "five star minus" performance and is heartily recommended.
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I have read the many reviews for all three of the Boheme performances that I currently own. What is quite clear is that each of them receives enthusiastic support by overwhelming numbers who see each as the definitive version! There are also those who totally dislike each version. There are also minor reservations voiced about each version by a handful of reviewers. So where does this leave the prospective new purchaser?

Firstly it is possible to suggest that there are at least 3 good versions available, all of which are likely to give great satisfaction to a great number of people. This is perhaps because this opera is such a fine creation that it enables the participants to rise to their best. So if there is a world class team engaged it is likely that you will get a world class result with little risk of failure.

Rather than give a detailed review of each version therefore I will attempt a general summary of the options based on these 3 productions. They are the two Zeffirelli productions at The Met and at La Scala. There is also the Copley production by way of comparison at the Royal Opera.
There are some key considerations in my opinion. Firstly the group of four men must work well as a team in addition to individual merits. Rodolfo, Mimi, Musetta and Marcello must also communicate strongly to each other in the same way. The end must be genuinely draining.

The Met performance delivers on all counts. Gheorghiu and Vargas both deliver a believable relationship with each other. All 4 men relate well to each other. Tezier and Arteta as Musetta also have a believable relationship and the whole production benefits from the extravagant, but always appropriate Zeffirelli concept ranging through an excellent garret, a spectacular Act 2 crowd scene, and the desolation of Acts 3 and 4. I personally feel that there are preferable Musettas and the small but important roles of Benoit and Alcindoro to those on offer here. The recording is of a good visual and sonic standard but it is a shame that it has not been produced as a Blu-ray (yet). This is a very slick and professional rendition.

The competing Zeffirelli performance from La Scala is very fine too. This musters a particularly vibrant team of men who relate especially well together. The Benoit and Alcindoro roles are, to my mind, more effective. The Musetta of Hei-Kyung Hong is simply outstanding and is a far more effective flirty portrayal which also shows considerable humanity and depth of understanding in the last scene. The role of Mimi is very different to that of Gheorghiu as Mimi here is of a far more `ordinary' appearance and without Gheorghiu's innate glamour and sheer `star' quality which always radiates through. Gallardo-Domas portrays much more the ordinary attractions of an ordinary and rather vulnerable woman. In this she is well matched by Alvarez. These two skilled singers relate well in these ways and their shared tragedy hits home at that level. For me, I find this even more moving than The Met performance for all that's star quality. On the downside however, I feel that the staging in Act 2 comes over as rather more cramped and thus relatively static at La Scala and the conducting and orchestral response is just a notch less crisp. A direct comparison between the starts of Acts 1 & 2 in both performances will show this - but the differences are quite small and do not outweigh the many other virtues.

That leaves the Copley production at the Royal Opera. I find my responses to this to be more uneven. The four men have the great advantage of being younger and not so well fed! The concept that these four men are living in abject poverty always stretches credulity when they are clearly considerably overweight as in most performances including the two Zefferelli options. However, the downside here is that Rodolfo in particular seems relatively immature and is unable to drag up the reserves of grief at the end. Alvarez does best at this followed at a short distance by Vargas. This Musetta similarly seems to lack the same sort of depth. One is aware that she is acting rather than being the part. Hei-Kyung is in a different league to this - and is also more seductively aware. The other men all do well but the star of this production for me is the Mimi of Gerzmava who has the youth, the voice and the concept of ultimate doomed fragility. The orchestral playing is possibly the best here as a result of fine conducting by Nelsons.

In conclusion then I would rate all three as fine productions in their ways with the La Scala / Zefferelli as first choice closely followed by the Met / Zeffirelli in second and with the Royal Opera production in third place. In the end though, it is all a matter of taste and personal preference as detailed reading of the many reviews will clearly reveal. Happy viewing and listening whichever you choose!


Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:

I can't imagine how many hours it took to do these 3 articulate and interesting Comparative Reviews - thank you on behalf of all the fans of La Boheme, Ian! (U.K. review)
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on 23 May 2009
I assumed that Angela Gheorghiu singing the role of Mimi would be enough to carry the production through, no matter who took the role of Rudolfo... in this case Ramon Vargas. I underestimated! Between them they, and not forgetting the rest of the cast, give a heart-rending performance that leaves the viewer as emotionally exhausted as they all obviously are at the end of the final act. Bravo! Magnificent! Puccini would approve.
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on 4 August 2009
MET gave a series of very high quality live opera video for cinema/TV boardcast. Il Barbiere is one, here we have another one.
This production is not totally new but it looks like a new one because the color is so fresh and framing is very professional as a movie.

Vargas was a cute big boy and has a really lovely voice. Gheorghiu was the star of the night. Her voice was a bit too heavy for ActI and she was a bit overacting when singing her aria, however she was so beautiful and very convincing in later duet. She and this production show that Mimi is not a simple mind girl, but an brave woman who dares to love and to ask for love, even til last minute of life. In the later acts she was perfect and really touching. Her acting in 4th act was heartbreaking.

Among all videos of this opera my favorite is 1979 La Scala one under C. Kleiber's conducting. However that video doesn't have good enough sound and screen quality, not to mention you can't really get that from Amazon. For other videos, some are too old style, some are good singing but bad production... This one is in general the highest quality one.
Whether you are already an opera fan or a new person, this video can give you a lot of fun (or tears because of being touched).
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on 7 December 2009
Angela Gheorghiu was about 43 when this recording was made. The only indication of this, for viewers of the DVD, is in the close-ups. Her voice and acting are simply superb. She presents a Mimi we haven't seen before. Not the weak girl from upstairs but a young woman with a will and a measure of wile. Wonderful.

Ramon Vargas seemed to be a little uncertain at first and his facial expressions seemed occasionally to be inapt, but his sweet tenor voice blossomed beautifully. It is, however, rather disconcerting to see two very overweight young men among the starving tenants of a garret. This is a performance during which one has to suspend disbelief!

The sets by Zeffirelli are superb, as one can expect from the master. It's pity that the Met's robotic cameras, moving silently along the front of the stage, gave us so many upward-looking views during the first Act.

I wasn't at all sure about the crowd scene. Impressive, yes, but methinks the stage was overpopulated for the sake of impressing the audience. Perhaps I'm wrong -- it would be interesting to hear what others have to say about that aspect of the production.

Another small point that worried me was the balance of sound. I have a pretty good Kenwood "home theatre" system but most of the singing seemed to come from the right hand side. This was confirmed by the movement of the main speaker on the right. I'll have to view the opera again, with great pleasure, in order to see if I'm right about this.

The occasional shots of back-stage activity and scenery moving were really very interesting and informative, too. It's a pity that the Met and Lincoln Center websites have very little information about that remarkable stage.

With just those small reservations, I heartily recommend this DVD. And, as someone else has written, have a box of tissues handy.
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on 13 February 2009
Puccini - La Boheme [The Metropolitan Opera HD Live 2008]I have several versions of this opera and in my opinion this illustrates the character of Mimi and Rudolfo better than any other version I have seen. "A Must Have" for lovers of opera.
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on 13 January 2010
This is the best production of La Boheme in my view. The scenery of Paris is very impressive and real, emotions and passion of the great singers Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas make the opera very romantic. This Metropolitan Opera production is a real success.
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on 24 September 2012
One of the best productions recorded of La Boheme. I really enjoyed Ramon Vargas's performance (by far my favourite of all the casts) those final moments are heart wrenching and most of the cast is wonderful throughout. However Angela Gheorghiu for me was not the worlds greatest Mimi (just as I found her wanting in a similar DVD production of Tosca). She is increadibly talented don't get me wrong her voice can be increadibly powerful anyone who has heard her madame butterfly can attest to that. I just don't think she is utilised as well as she could be in this performance her voice lacking an emotional impact. I understand the position of the character but your voice doesn't have to be booming to be emotional and I feel this is a problem we see in some of her other performances as well. Its a small gripe having scene other delicate but heart breaking Mimi's.

As for the staging well i don't know what to say...

They actually make it snow and it looks increadible. Some other people have complained about camera positions ect. but i didn't have any problems in this area. Other then cutting to the interview with Angela Gheorghiu it detracts from the opera and starkly brings you out of the action in an upeheaval that is unessecary. Yes we also get to see the stage craft at hand but I quite like these scenes the scale fo the production on full display and they also usually are conjurred up like a new vision emerging from the stage I think these work well.

This production is grand and lavish and what you really wan't from an opera production it doesn't play with the material in ridiculose and unconvincing ways. It uses a staging and clearly lavish budget to create what is quite plausibly the best experience of La Boheme you can get without going to the opera.
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on 8 January 2011
This is one show that is not easy to better! The performance of the cast is star quality and very moving. Watch some of the fleeting geatures as they sing; superb! At the end of each act we are taken backstage to see the setting up of the next act, a good idea for it enhances the enjoyment of this opera. Highly recommended.
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on 13 July 2010
This production is the best one I have ever seen. The cast were splendid and I would recommend this DVD to all opera buffs

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