Sunday, October 31, 2004

GREAT ACTING....disapointing singing

A critical review of the Met's 1982 Production of La Boheme

As a young classical singer I desire to learn as much as I can about Opera and the art of singing. One of the best ways of doing this is by listening and watching the great opera singers. Viewing the Metropolitan's 1982 Production of La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini on DVD is a great opportunity to increase a young singer's knowledge of the opera world. This video teaches a great amount about action on the opera stage as well as classic opera sets and costumes; however this video should not serve as a young singers guide for good vocal technique.
Act I begins in a rundown Parisian apartment. The set is beautiful. The group of Bohemians living there get their land-lord drunk in order to escape paying the rent. I felt that the Bohemians were a little too clean cut to appear as authentic impoverished Bohemians. Rodolfo (Jose Carreras) stays behind to work on his writing while his friends go out to celebrate Christmas Eve. Rodolfo hears a knock on the door and opens it to find Mimi (Teresa Stratas), a beautiful creature who asks if she can have a light for her candle. Rodolfo introduces himself with the aria "Che gelida manina." I was shocked to hear that Carreras had this aria transposed down a half step so it would be easier to sing. Even with the transposition he struggled on the high notes. Mimi then sings "Mi chimano Mimi." I was disappointed with Stratas' high notes as well, however she had some wonderful dynamics throughout. The Act ends with the duet between Mimi and Rodolfo "O soave fanciulla." Once again both singers' high notes were disappointing. Although they both lacked the vocal splendor I was hoping for, their acting was convincing and touching. I was truly convinced that Rodolfo was in love with Mimi and Mimi's frailty was almost frightening at times. However, I did feel that Stratas' desire to create a realistic deathly Mimi occasionally hindered her singing.
The huge ensemble cast filling the stage during Act II creates great excitement. Act II is set on the streets of Paris. The Bohemians are at a sidewalk cafe when Marcello's (Richard Stilwell) ex-girlfriend Musetta (Renata Scotto) shows up with her new sugar-daddy. Scotto's high notes in "Quando men vo," like many others in the cast, are a little too screechy and tight for my tastes, but Scotto's stage presence was wonderful. She portrays the attention craving Musetta with extreme ease. I got chills at the end of "Quando men vo" when the whole cast was singing. Overall, Act II was full of opulence, including a live horse walking across the stage. Puccini marvelously crafted together the street scene; he blended together the sounds of children chasing the toy vendor, Mimi and Rodolfo falling even more in love, Marcello and Musetta flirting , a military parade and the sounds of Parisians on the streets to create an extremely exhilarating second Act.
In contrast to the grandeur and colorfulness of the previous, Act III is haunting and subdued. Act III is set at a toll-gate on the edge of Paris. The audience discovers that Rodolfo has left Mimi partly due to his jealousy but mainly due to Mimi's deteriorating health. As the snow fell upon the increasingly frail Mimi, I felt that Stratas started to truly emerge as a singer. Her voice seemed to free and warm up. I really started to empathize with her character. Rodolfo and Mimi's duet "Dunque รจ proprio finita!" was both beautiful and heart-wrenching simultaneously. Act III is when the audience learns that Mimi is doomed. Marcello doesn't want to watch Mimi die, but they decide to try to stay together until spring. When Marcello and Musetta join in at the end of the Act, it shows a powerful contrast between the two couples.
By Act IV both Rodolfo and Marcello have lost their girlfriends. The Act opens in their apartment with both talking of their exs. The rest of their Bohemian buddies show up and they have a grand ole time dancing and joking around. Suddenly the mood changes when Musetta comes, helping along a dying Mimi. Knowing that she is about to die, Mimi requests to be taken to see Rodolfo. The slow pulsing chords in "Sono andati? Fingevo di dormire " echo a death march and thus foreshadows the tragic ending of the opera. Mimi and Rodolfo's last duet revisits many of the opera's earlier highlights. When Rodolfo realizes that Mimi has died he sings two haunting "Mimi's" and collapses on top of her. The ending scene always manages to make me cry.
Overall this is a great visual performance of La Boheme. The sets throughout are breath-taking and the director Kirk Browning did an amazing job with close-ups. Also, all of the singers are great actors. I would definitely recommend this DVD for anyone that would like to see the way Opera should look. However if wanting to hear wonderful singing, I'd tell you to look else where. For a great CD recording I recommend the Berlin Orchestra's recording with Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Freni as Mimi.