I can never get enough of La Boheme, I find it incredibly touching every time and the music is some of the most beautiful I've ever heard. There are some great productions out there available on DVD, with only the 2005 Zurich performance not working for me. Sadly, this production has not been released on DVD, but has a live audio recording. What a great opportunity to actually see the production, when seeing the whole thing on Youtube, with the visuals to go with what was so perfect already musically. And it was simply divine in every way, really one of the best Bohemes I've seen.
Visually, it is a traditional production, with a garret/attic setting that actually does look cold yet there is some very nice colour in Act 2. The stage direction is intelligently done and never undermines the poignancy and heartfelt drama of the story. The ending always makes me cry, and I certainly did here, while Act 2 is enormously entertaining. Maybe the video quality wasn't as sharp as it could have been, but it isn't enough of a liability to bring down my opinion. Musically, it is as perfect as you can get regarding La Boheme and opera in general. The orchestral playing shape phrases so elegantly and beautifully with silky legato, and have a really sumptuous sound. The chorus are characterful and well blended, not all their passages are easy(the ladies' telling off of their children in Act 2 is very hard) but they don't let it show. And it is all thanks to Carlos Kleiber, who whether efficient or nuanced brings out the poetry, pathos and (occasional) subtle humour of Puccini's music masterfully with great attention to musicianship and tonal colour, and he does this from conducting the score from memory.
As Mimi, Ileana Cotrubas is just wonderful. Hers is not a large voice, then again considering the role it was appropriate. While Mimi is not the most interesting of the Puccini soprano roles(character-wise I think Tosca is the most complex), I think the role has its difficulties, mainly to look and sound young, sympathetic and fragile convincingly. After hearing sopranos who sing gorgeously but perhaps too mature or stately(Tebaldi on record is a prime example), Cotrubas the great actress she is brings a lot of vulnerability and pathos to Mimi, and does convince in all three of the above regards. Regardless of the vocal size, that doesn't matter when the voice is lovely to listen to and when it shows a highly musical and expressive singer who sings with a sympathetic soul throughout. Luciano Pavarotti is perfect as Rodolfo, the role is just made for him and I can think of few tenors better than him in it. He had never been noted much as an actor, but actually here I think his personality and excitement really shines and it is a pleasure to watch him. He compliments Cotrubas perfectly in the final scene and comes across as very genuine, while his facial expressions and eyes are expressive. I cannot fault him vocally, his instantly distinctive voice- possibly the most recognisable tenor voice-has the bright ping and effortless high notes are still here, with his Act 1 high Cs better than any of his DVD performances, complete with great musicality and crystalline diction.
Lorenzo Saccomani is a memorable Marcello. He has a powerful voice without being too large for the role and he doesn't sound too pushed or as if he was shouting. There is one bit in Act 4 where he deliberately goes high-pitched and I found it very funny. He blends with Pavarotti beautifully in In Un Coupe...O Mimi Tu Piu Non Torni, and is not bad at all in the ensembles, in fact I don't think anybody is. He is a decent actor too, the best I've seen him actually, on par with his Valentin and Sharpless and better than his Silvio and Paolo. He is amusing in his rapport with Musetta in their love/hate relationship spat, and succeeds in being more sympathetic in the last two acts. Lucia Popp, a fine artist who is sorely missed and rarely if at all disappointed, in my opinion beats all her DVD competitors as Musetta. Her pure silvery voice, full of agility and character, is ideal for Musetta, which she musically and intelligently shapes, very similar attributes to Cotrubas. She is equally fine as an actress, her personal charm and obvious commitment really help in her favour. Her flirtatiousness in Act 2 is hilarious to watch, while her change to humble is convincing and moving.
Yevgeny Nesterenko, a highly impressive King Phillip, Dosifei and Boris Godunov, is excellent as Colline. He has a warm and well rounded voice, that is as easy at the top as it is at the bottom(although Colline is not one of those bass roles that call for Nesterenko's thunderous low notes). Vecchia Zimarra is beautifully sung, and will bring anybody to tears, a reaction I don't always get actually listening to that aria. Dramatically he is very noble and very easy to warm to. Giorgio Giorgetti sounds a little wobbly as Schaunard but interacts very well with the rest of the Bohemians and seemed to enjoy their little amusing moment in Act 4 as they dance around the stage. Alcindoro, Benoit and Parpignol are reliably acted and sung, the suitably frustrated and impatient Alcindoro being my personal favourite. All in all, this production was so good that I had to pinch myself to see whether it was a really good dream. Hope it gets a DVD release in the future soon, it deserves it, right now as long as it stays up the Youtube video will serve nicely. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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