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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Bohéme

The Met brings back its meal ticket featuring four starving artists.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
If the shoe fits...Susanna Philips (center) as Musetta in a scene from Act II of La Bohéme.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
A brace of young, talented tenors, sopranos and baritones portray Puccini's Paris bohemians, trying to stay warm through a long cold winter and a massive Act Three cascade of fake stage snow. This is the Met's most-performed and most revived show, back for another year.

What is La Bohéme?
Combining intimate drama, romance, heartbreak and humor, Puccini's story pits six starving artists  against the vast backdrop of turn-of-the-century Paris in a struggle for success and survival. It remains the most popular opera of the last century and this is the third year in a row that the Met has presented it.

Who's in the cast?
Luminary talents like Ailyn Perez, Kristine Opolais (Mími) Susanna Philips (Musetta) Dmytro Popov and Piotr Beczala (Rodolfo) get to sing the most famous love music that Puccini ever wrote. The casts for these two runs also includes a brace of six baritones (David Bizic, Massimo Cavalletti, Alessio Arduini singing Marcello and two fine comic singers including Rodisson Pogisov and Patrick Carfizzi as Schaunard. Talented basses Ryan Speedo Green and Christian Van Horn round out the cast in the role of the philosopher Colline.

Why should I go see this opera?
Giacomo Puccini was a master of melody and no score shows his gifts better than La Bohéme. The moment when Mími drops her key in the first act triggers off a string of gorgeous themes as she and Rodolfo slowly fall in love. When she dies in the fourth act, these themes come back with devastating power, hopefully melting the hearts of all the couples in the audience. This opera is the best date night.

How's the production?
This is the most popular production in the Met repertory. It has held the stage for four decades with its sweeping vistas of Paris (reimagined through the eyes of designer Franco Zeffirelli) and its jaw-dropping Act II crowd scene that features 200 extras onstage bringing the entire Latin Quarter of Paris to simulated life.

When does the show open?
The first performance of La Bohéme this season is Sept. 28. The new cast takes over Nov. 16 for the run leading up to the holiday season.

Where do I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I buy?

RCA Victor Chorus and Orchestra cond. Sir Thomas Beecham (EMI/WBC, 1953)
Made at the Manhattan Center Studios on W. 34th St. in New York, this is the classic mono recording of Puccini's opera. Jussi Björling and Victoria de los Angeles are an ardent pair of lovers. Robert Merrill is a marvelous, characterful Marcello. A classic.

Orchestra e Coro de St. Cecillia di Roma cond. Tullio Serafin (Decca, 1959)
Veteran opera conductor Tullio Serafin leads this fine early stereo recording. Carlo Bergonzi and Renata Tebaldi lead a solid cast as the young lovers. The great Ettore Bastianini is Marcello. The cast is filled out with great singers from this era, including Fernando Corena, Cesare Siepi and Piero da Palma.

Berlin Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (Decca, 1973)
Luciano Pavarotti lovers: this is one of his great recordings, pairing the Italian tenor with his frequent collaborators, soprano Mirella Freni and conductor Herbert von Karajan. This performance is a little slower, with the German orchestra playing with a slightly heavy touch, but it remains competitive.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.