The Met Streams Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’

By Lynne Gray, PhD

Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org

Viewing Note: On the Met’s home page, you now need to scroll down past the multiple ads for Pay Per View concerts and the [BUY TICKETS] boxes and go to the box that says “Nightly Opera Stream: <name of opera> and click on [WATCH NOW].

Saturday, August 15

Puccini’s La Bohème ~ 2Hrs and 21MinsStarring Kristine Opolais, Susanna Phillips, Vittorio Grigolo, Massimo Cavalletti, Patrick Carfizzi, and Oren Gradus, conducted by Stefano Ranzani. From April 5, 2014.

This is La Bohème stream #5 and features the latest generation of Met stars to take on Franco Zeffirelli’s classic production of Puccini’s most popular opera. We already have had chances to see two wonderful classic productions – with Scotto & Pavarotti, and Stratas & Carreras, as well as two more recent productions – with Yoncheva & Fabiano and Gheorghiu & Vargas. This time, Vittorio Grigolo (we’ve seen him previously as Roméo, Cavaradossi, and Hoffmann) is the emotional young bohemian poet Rodolfo who falls head over heels in love with his neighbor, the seamstress Mimì, sung by the wonderful Kristine Opolais (we’ve already seen her staring in Manon Lescaut, Rusalka, and Butterfly). Susanna Phillips (L’Amour de Loin, Cosi, and a previous Bohème) is the flirtatious Musetta, Massimo Cavalletti (Manon Lescaut) is her sweetheart Marcello, Patrick Carfizzi plays Schaunard and Oren Gradus as Colline completes the ensemble. Stefano Ranzani conducts. 

This is the now very famous matinee performance when Opolais stepped in, literally at the very last minute because Anita Hartig woke up with the flu that morning. Opolais sang with no rehearsal at all and never having been on stage with Grigolo, after having sung the also tremendously difficult role of Butterfly just the night before. It was an amazing feat and equally amazing was the immediate, emotional chemistry of this exceptionally talented pair. This will be a good one!

As classic as opera gets, this one is the most-performed work in Met history – and Franco Zeffirelli’s beloved staging is also the most-performed production in Met history. An archetypal tragedy filled with gorgeous and deeply affecting music, Puccini’s timeless tale of love, camaraderie, jealousy, and loss in the garrets and cafés of bohemian Paris has reliably enchanted audiences and left them in tears since its 1896 premiere.

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 rambunctious young men, three of whom finally depart to celebrate Christmas Eve on the town, conveniently leaving Rodolfo alone just when Mimì happens to knock, asking if he would relight her candle. It is of course, love at first sight for Mimì and Rodolfo and 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 the floor for her dropped key and then tells her about himself; “Mi chiamano Mimì” (They call me Mimì) as she responds and introduces herself to him, and finally, “O soave fanciulla” (Oh lovely girl) as they are now happily falling 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 on Marcello. Musetta and Marcello are back together again and her ‘patron’ is left with the bill.

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 (from 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 still together but fighting more bitterly than ever. The act ends as the latter pair 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 – it is summer, and 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 stairs on her own. All that remains 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!

Picture Credits

1. Zeffirelli’s Act II setting – Paris on Christmas Eve for Puccini’s La Bohème at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

2. Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Kristine Opolais as Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

3. Susanna Phillips as Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème (2014) at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.

4. Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Kristine Opolais as Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

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