Top positive review
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A very fine production and one of my recent top three - a comparative review
on 10 January 2012
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)