Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Puccini: La Boheme – Bregenzer Festspiel 2002 (Part 1: Cafe Grandissimo)

There are a few things we should note right up front about this DVD: 
  1. An opera on the Seebühne at Bregenz is meant to be a spectacle. It’s a tourist attraction. The stage is in the lake. They have fireworks, there are tons of people on stage, they always have to work a boat into the production, and the set is usually something really strange and/or symbolic. (It also has to be sturdy enough to survive being in the lake for 2 full years.)
  2. The performances are (obviously) outdoors, the singers are miked, and the wonderful Vienna Philharmonic is...well we’re not quite sure where they are, but they do sound great!  The opera plays for two summers, and there are at least two singers cast in every role.
  3. Probably the only reason this performance made it to a commercial DVD release is that the remarkable Rolando Villazon—still relatively unknown at the time—is Rodolfo. However, we are lucky, because the whole cast, though less well-known, is pretty darned good.
  4. As in most theatrical productions, this was best seen live, because there is so much to look at. On the other hand, the people at the lake didn’t get to see all the close-ups.
Love at first hand-hold: two lovely arias.

The directors Richard Jones and Anthony McDonald have updated the setting to the late twentieth century. (The liner notes mention the 60’s, but I get an 80’s vibe.) They have established a typical “me generation” group of friends, who treat life casually and have no obvious plans for the future. All the relationships are intense, but remain casual. In Act 2, the gang seems to forget Mimi was with them and they wander off without her. And Rodolfo’s final action in Act 4 is telling.

The set is a giant café table—three tables really—with the main action on the largest table. There are huge chairs surrounding the tables; secondary action takes place there, too.  A rack of postcards serves as the backdrop and the table top is painted with a map of Paris. There are several huge postcards and a pen on the stage that raise and lower to change the scene. An ashtray, a champagne cork, and huge loose match sticks complete the table-top scene. The garret is created by one upright postcard with a door in it. Momus is a (gigantic) nightclub, and the scene in act 3 takes place in a dark alley.  Poignantly, during this outdoor performance, it starts to rain, and the last scenes are played out in a major downpour.

Surprisingly, with the focus on big, bright spectacle, the principal characters are all strongly delineated, as are many of the supernumeraries.  We are fortunate to have this DVD, since much detail was surely lost on a live audience.  The principals all sing well, too. I’ll talk more about their singing and acting in the next post. Meanwhile, here is the end of Act 1:

O suove fanciulla

Read Part 2 Here

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