Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: La Bohème
Radio Broadcast and Live in HD Transmission of Saturday, April 5, 12:55 P.M. (HD), 1 P.M. (Radio)
Christmas Eve at the Café Momus, with Marcello (Alexey Markov), Rodolfo (Calleja), Mimì (Kovalevska), Schaunard (Joshua Hopkins) and Colline (Christian van Horn)
© Johan Elbers 2014
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Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica,
based on the novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, by Henri Murger
|| (in order of vocal appearance)
||bar., MASSIMO CAVALLETTI
||tenor, VITTORIO GRIGOLO
||bass, OREN GRADUS
||bass-bar., PATRICK CARFIZZI
||baritone, DONALD MAXWELL
||soprano, KRISTINE OPOLAIS
||tenor, DANIEL CLARK SMITH
||baritone, DONALD MAXWELL
||soprano, SUSANNA PHILLIPS
||baritone, JOSEPH TURI
||baritone, JASON HENDRIX
Conducted by STEFANO RANZANI
Production: Franco Zeffirelli
Set designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Costume designer: Peter J. Hall
Lighting designer: Gil Wechsler
Stage director: J. Knighten Smit
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Joan Dornemann,
Howard Watkins, Liora Maurer,
Assistant stage director: Gregory Keller
Stage band conductor: Gregory Buchalter
Children's chorus director: Anthony Piccolo
Italian coach: Gildo Di Nunzio
Prompter: Joan Dornemann
Production a gift of
Mrs. Donald D. Harrington
Revival a gift of Rolex
| Paris, 1840s
Host: Margaret Juntwait
Commentator: Ira Siff
Music producer: Jay David Saks
Producers: Mary Jo Heath, Ellen Keel,
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni,
Directed for Live Cinema by:
Barbara Willis Sweete
HD host: Joyce DiDonato
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ACT I. In their Latin Quarter garret, the near-destitute artist Marcello and poet Rodolfo try to keep warm on Christmas Eve by feeding the stove with pages from Rodolfo's latest drama. They are soon joined by their roommates - Colline, a young philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician, who brings food, fuel, and funds he has collected from an eccentric student. While they celebrate their unexpected fortune, the landlord, Benoit, comes to collect the rent. Plying the older man with wine, they urge him to tell of his flirtations, then throw him out in mock indignation at his infidelity to his wife. As his friends depart to celebrate at the Café Momus, Rodolfo promises to join them later, remaining behind to try to write. There is another knock at the door; the visitor is a pretty neighbor, Mimì, whose candle has gone out on the drafty stairway. No sooner does she enter than the girl feels faint; after reviving her with a sip of wine, Rodolfo helps her to the door and relights her candle. Mimì realizes she lost her key when she fainted, and, as the two search for it, both candles are blown out. In the darkness, Rodolfo finds the key and slips it into his pocket. In the moonlight the poet takes the girl's shivering hand, telling her his dreams. She then recounts her life alone in a lofty garret, embroidering flowers and waiting for the spring. Rodolfo's friends are heard outside, urging him to join them; he calls back that he is not alone and will be along shortly. Expressing their joy in finding each other, Mimì and Rodolfo embrace and slowly leave, arm in arm, for the café.
Alcindoro (Donald Maxwell) and Musetta (Irina Lungu) at the Café Momus
© Beth Bergman 2014
ACT II. Amid the shouts of street hawkers, Rodolfo buys Mimì a bonnet near the Café Momus and then introduces her to his friends; they all sit down and order supper. The toy vendor Parpignol passes by, besieged by eager children. Marcello's former sweetheart, Musetta, makes a noisy entrance on the arm of the elderly but wealthy Alcindoro. The ensuing tumult reaches its peak when, trying to regain Marcello's attention, she sings a waltz about her popularity. She complains that her shoe pinches, sending Alcindoro off to fetch a new pair. The moment he is gone, she falls into Marcello's arms and tells the waiter to charge everything to Alcindoro. Soldiers march by the café, and as the bohemians fall in behind, Alcindoro rushes back with Musetta's shoes.
ACT III. At dawn on the snowy outskirts of Paris, a customs official admits farm women to the city. Merrymakers are heard within a tavern. Soon Mimì wanders in, searching for the place where Marcello and Musetta now live. When the painter emerges, she tells him of her distress over Rodolfo's incessant jealousy. She says she believes it is best that they part. Rodolfo, who has been asleep in the tavern, wakes and comes outside. Mimì hides nearby, though Marcello thinks she has gone. The poet first tells Marcello that he wants to separate from his sweetheart, citing her fickleness; pressed for the real reason, he breaks down, saying that her coughing can only grow worse in the poverty they share. Overcome with tears, Mimì stumbles forward to bid her lover farewell as Marcello runs back into the tavern hearing Musetta's laughter. While Mimì and Rodolfo recall past happiness, Musetta dashes out of the inn, quarreling with Marcello, who has caught her flirting. The painter and his mistress part, hurling insults at each other, but Mimì and Rodolfo decide to remain together until spring.
Rodolfo (Calleja) and the dying Mimì (Kovalevska)
© Beth Bergman 2014
ACT IV. Now separated from their girlfriends, Rodolfo and Marcello lament their loneliness in their garret. Colline and Schaunard bring a meager meal; to lighten their spirits the four stage a dance, which turns into a mock duel. At the height of the hilarity Musetta bursts in to tell them that Mimì is outside, too weak to come upstairs. As Rodolfo runs to her aid, Musetta relates how Mimì begged to be taken to her lover to die. The poor girl is made as comfortable as possible, while Musetta asks Marcello to sell her earrings for medicine and Colline goes off to pawn his overcoat, which for so long has kept him warm. Left alone, Mimì and Rodolfo wistfully recall their meeting and their first happy days, but she is seized with violent coughing. When the others return, Musetta gives Mimì a muff to warm her hands and prays for her life. As she peacefully drifts into unconsciousness, Rodolfo closes the curtain to soften the light. Schaunard discovers that Mimì is dead, and when Rodolfo at last realizes it, he throws himself despairingly on her body, repeatedly calling her name.
Colline (van Horn) and Schaunard (Hopkins) engage in a mock duel, watched by Marcello and Rodolfo (Markov, Calleja)
© Beth Bergman 2014
La Bohème, Puccini's fourth opera, has become the most popular Italian lyric stage work after Verdi's Aida. If this success justifies the composer's pains, the work's early tribulations bore little hint of the unified, spontaneous feeling embodied in La Bohème. Puccini had been working on La Lupa, a story by Giovanni Verga, but was dissuaded from it by Cosima Wagner's daughter, Blandine von Bülow, whom he met on an ocean voyage.
In La Bohème he found a reflection of his own youthful struggles, but Ruggero Leoncavallo, the composer of Pagliacci, claimed prior interest. Leoncavallo's version, rushed to completion and staged in Venice fifteen months after Puccini's, gave Henri Murger's novel of Parisian Latin Quarter life a less continuous, more melodramatic interpretation. The secret of Puccini's score, which made posterity all but forget his rival's, was its light, poetic quality.
The young Arturo Toscanini conducted the first La Bohème, in Turin on February 1, 1896. The U.S. premiere fell to the Dal Conte company during a visit to Los Angeles (Oct. 14, 1897), and the Metropolitan Opera first presented the work on December 26, 1900, with Nellie Melba and Albert Saléza, Luigi Mancinelli on the podium. The current production was unveiled on December 14, 1981, with Teresa Stratas and José Carreras, James Levine conducting.
Maija Kovalevska and Joseph Calleja as Mimì and
Rodolfo at the Metropolitan Opera
© Beth Bergman 2014
WHAT TO READ AND HEAR
Ellen Marriage and John Selwyn's translation of Henri Murger's novel is available (as The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter) in a handsome edition from University of Pennsylvania Press. The Cambridge Opera Handbook for La Bohème has an interesting essay by William Ashbrook on the stage history of the opera. Best of the currently available Puccini biographies are Mary Jane Phillips-Matz's Puccini: A Biography (Northeastern) and Julian Budden's Puccini: His Life and Works (Oxford).
Despite some starry Bohèmes of recent vintage, the most potent recorded performances of Puccini's opera on CD date from the LP era and earlier. Thomas Beecham's 1956 reading, with Victoria de los Angeles and Jussi Björling its peerless stars, remains hors concours, its relaxed, easy charm and emotional richness undimmed after almost a half-century in the catalogue (EMI). Karajan's gloriously spacious Bohème from 1973 (Decca) stars Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni, a Rodolfo and Mimì in the world-beater class. Georg Solti's 1974 recording is perhaps less individual than Karajan's, but Solti fields the formidable team of Montserrat Caballé, Plácido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes as his principals (RCA). Licia Albanese and Beniamino Gigli are the lovers in Umberto Berrettoni's quirky but endearing 1938 La Scala recording (Naxos).
The Met's now-classic Zeffirelli staging was televised during its first season, in 1982, and is available on DVD (DG), with James Levine pacing Teresa Stratas, José Carreras, Renata Scotto and Richard Stilwell. In 2008, the Zeffirelli La Bohème was transmitted as part of The Met: Live in HD, with Nicola Luisotti conducting an attractive cast — Angela Gheorghiu, Ramón Vargas, Ainhoa Arteta and Ludovic Tézier (EMI). The 1977 telecast of an earlier Met Bohème production — the thrilling first presentation of Live from the Met — is available on DVD (DG), with Levine leading Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti as Mimì and Rodolfo. Tiziano Severini is the conductor for Francesca Zambello's 1989 San Francisco Opera La Bohème, with Pavarotti and Freni caught in late bloom (Kultur). Baz Luhrmann's Australian Opera staging, retooled for a Broadway run in 2002-03, was internationally televised in 1993, with David Hobson and Cheryl Barker most persuasively cast in the leading roles (Image Entertainment).
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