Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Puccini: La Boheme – Bregenzer Festspiel 2002 (Part 2: A Cozy Table for Two Hundred)

There are approximately a gazillion extras in this production of La Boheme: Shoppers, children, partiers, chefs, waiters, guards, street cleaners, private body guards, etc., etc. Zeffirelli would be envious. During the Momus scene, extras actually sit around the huge (main stage) table. In the crowd scenes there is always a big crowd, especially at Momus; but the principals are never obscured nor lost in the confusion.  There are a few modern-ish dance moves and a marching band that looks suspiciously Sgt. Pepper-inspired.  I will never get that “tattoo shimmy” line dance at the end of Act 2 out of my head. (For better or for worse.)

Musetta/Madonna/Marilyn, and the rest of the gang
sing, then escape while the crowd shimmies.

Mimi may be sickly, but she is not the innocent frail lonely waif as we've been led to believe. She clearly has her own circle of friends and she's a flirt—remember, she is the one who approaches Rodolfo. And no matter how much of a romantic you are, it’s hard to believe they fall in love just from holding hands.  (The Villazon/Nebtrenko film makes it explict that hand-holding is not all they do before they go out; and I think it’s a plausible concept.) Mimi has already promised “who knows” what will happen when they get back from dinner.  (And we all know what “who knows” usually means!) When she and Roldolfo break up, she has little trouble finding a wealthy man to take care of her. I am not suggesting she is Violetta’s kid sister, but she's not exactly Manon, headed for the convent, either. Mimi can fend for herself. After all she is the one who suggests that she go off into the city with Rudolfo and the boys.

Alexia Voulgaridou is a believable Mimi, though less frail than one might expect. She has a warm full voice that contrasts nicely with Rodolfo and the lighter brighter Musetta of Elena de la Merced. I am surprised we haven't heard a lot more from these two sopranos lately. 

Rolando Villazon's Rodolfo is self-centered. He is possessive right away, telling Mimi to “tell me you love me." Already in Act 2 is letting her know he can be very jealous, and he demonstrates his jealousy in Act 3. From the start, their love affair seems more superficial than lushly romantic—more like a heavy crush.  Rodolfo  is genuinely upset that Mimi is dying, but seems to keep his distance from her. At the end, instead of collapsing in despair, he runs away. That bothered me at first, but I think it fits this characterization of Rodolfo. Mimi's death is a sad, tragic life event, and he isn't yet ready to accept the reality of death. Life for Rodolfo will probably go on relatively unaffected. 

Rolando Villazon demonstrates why he became such a big star. He projects a "Rolando-ness" in all he does. He has a rich baritonal lower and middle range, and a bright ringing upper range. I appreciate that he sings the closing of Act 1 as written, rather than going for the high note with the soprano; it's very tasteful and sounds gorgeous. 

Rainfall adds a poignancy to this bittersweet duet.

Rodolfo's buddies (Ludovic Tézier, Markus Marquardt, and Toby Stafford-Allen) are all really baritones, but each has a distinctive sound. They seem to have a great bond of friendship, and display individual quirkiness as befits a painter, a philosopher, and a musician. They also have a lot of left-over adolescent energy to burn off. We see this at its best in Acts 1 & 2 and in the first half of Act 4. Elena de la Merced as Musetta is a gem: part Marilyn, part Madonna (the singer), but with compassion; and she is probably the most sensible and wise of all of them. She knows when to be a coquette, when to find a sugar daddy, and when to take maternal charge of the gang. 

This is a quirky, bright, sexy, glittery, unsentimental production, with lots to look at, and a cast of young, attractive, talented singers. It's a refreshing contrast to the famous Zeffirelli production. I think this regie-ish production would be a great introduction to La Boheme. Plus, it's an opportunity to see what all the early fuss over Villazon was about. 

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