By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this can be streamed from www.metopera.org.
Monday, July 6
Puccini’s La Bohème #3 ~2Hrs 20Mins
Starring Sonya Yoncheva, Susanna Phillips, Michael Fabiano, Lucas Meachem, Alexey Lavrov, and Matthew Rose, conducted by Marco Armiliato. From February 24, 2018.
So – this is actually the third free nightly streaming go-round for the very same 40-year-old Franco Zeffirelli production of La Bohème at the Met – only the cast names have been changed (many, many times) to preserve something approaching the correct ages of Puccini’s young bohemians. As I have noted previously, you can never see La Bohème too many times and this cast is another fine one – the classic sets have aged well, which is certainly a good thing since this is the most performed opera in the history of the Met.
La Bohème is an archetypal operatic tragedy filled with gorgeous and deeply moving music. It is Puccini’s timeless tale of love, camaraderie, jealousy, and loss in the garrets and cafés of bohemian Paris’ Latin Quarter just before the Industrial Revolution changed everything forever. It has reliably enchanted audiences for the past 124 years while always leaving them in tears since its 1896 premiere.
There have been three live HD transmissions of La Bohème since 2008 alone. Today’s is the most recent, presented during the Met’s 2017–18 season, and includes soprano Sonya Yoncheva as the fragile seamstress Mimì, who falls deeply in love with the passionate poet Rodolfo, sung by ardent tenor Michael Fabiano. Soprano Susanna Phillips and baritone Lucas Meachem are the sometimes sparing, sometimes kissing, on-again-off-again lovers Musetta and Marcello. Bass Matthew Rose and baritone Alexey Lavrov round out the struggling group of bohemian friends. Maestro Marco Armiliato is on the podium. Previously we have seen streams of this production featuring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas as Mimi and Rodolfo, as well as the inimitable Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti from the classic TV production of 1977.
In case you need a quick review, the story follows the trials and tribulations of two couples (Rodolfo and Mimì, along with Marcello and Musetta) – each with their own unique relationship challenges, plus two other Bohemian friends – Schaunard, a musician and Colline, a philosopher. In Act I, we are introduced to the four young men, three of whom finally depart to celebrate Christmas Eve on the town conveniently leaving Rodolfo alone when Mimì knocks, asking if he would relight her candle. It is love at first sight for Mimì and Rodolfo. Consequently, we are treated to the famous Bohème trifecta: “Che gelida manina” (What a cold little hand) as Rodolfo ‘accidentally’ touches Mimì’s hand when they are searching for her dropped key and then tells her about himself; “Mi chiamano Mimì” (They call me Mimì) as she responds and introduces herself and “O soave fanciulla” (Oh lovely girl) as they are now happily in love and leave to join the others – easily the most hummable and beautiful 15 minutes you will ever spend watching an opera.
Act II takes us to the Café Momus on Christmas Eve (and the glorious multi-story Zeffirelli set) where Mimì is introduced to the other Bohemians and Rodolfo’s friend Marcello is reminded of his (barely contained) desire for Musetta. When she appears with her new ‘patron,’ her “Quando me’n vo'” (often called Musetta’s Waltz) is a showstopper – and has its desired effect. Musetta and Marcello are together again.
By Act III, the mood has darkened considerably. It is still winter, and Rodolfo has tried to leave Mimì several times – ostensibly because of his jealousy, but actually because he cannot bear to see her suffering (she has consumption) in his cold garret. He secretly hopes she will find a wealthy ‘patron’ who will be able to take better care of her. Marcello and Musetta are also still together but fighting more bitterly than ever. The act ends as they split, but Mimì and Rodolfo decide to stay together just until Spring. Their quartet: “Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina!” (Goodbye, sweet awakening in the morning!) is one of the most beautiful in all opera.
Act IV finds us once again in the garret – Marcello and Rodolfo are lamenting their lost loves, this time in a tenor-baritone duet that is particularly gorgeous, “O Mimi, tu piu non torni” (Oh Mimì, you will return no more). Musetta interrupts them, saying she has brought Mimì who is too ill to climb the steps on her own. All that remains then are the Bohemians’ fervent, if futile, attempts to save her. The final heart-rending duet which revisits Rodolfo’s and Mimì’s first meeting is followed by Mimì’s final gentle slide into death – most unusual for an expiring soprano – and remarkably effective. Get your hankies ready!
This opera, of course, was also the inspiration for the contemporary Broadway musical Rent (same story, different location!) in case you want to explore a more modern version. And, by the way, if you loved the opera music that was featured in the movie, Moonstruck – it was largely taken from this incredibly beautiful masterpiece. As I said – you can never see, or even listen to, Bohème too many times!
1. Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo (relighting her candle) and Sonya Yoncheva as Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Met, 2018. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
2. The four bohemian men in their shared garret – Michael Fabiano, Lucas Meachem, Alexey Lavrov, and Matthew Rose in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Met, 2018. Photo Credit Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
3. Zeffirelli’s setting – Paris on Christmas Eve for Puccini’s La Bohème at the Met, 2018. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
4. Susanna Phillips as Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème (2018) at the Metropolitan Opera.. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.
5. Sonya Yoncheva as Mimì in Act III of Puccini’s La Bohème (2018) at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo Credit… Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera.
6. The bohemians comfort Mimì in Act IV of Puccini’s La Bohème (2018) at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.