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A Mimi is born!

Gran Teatre del Liceu
06/18/2016 -  & June 19, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, 30, July 1, 2, 3*, 6, 7, 8, 2016
Giacomo Puccini: La bohème
Tatiana Monogarova/Eleanora Buratto*/Dinara Alieva (Mimi), Olga Kulchynska/Nathalie Manfrino* (Musetta), Matthew Polenzani/Saimir Pirgu* (Rodolfo), Gabriel Bermúdez/Artur Rucinski* (Marcello), Isaac Galan/David Menéndez* (Schaunard), Paul Gay*/Fernando Radó (Colline), Josep Lluis Moreno (Parpignol), Fernando Latorre (Benoît, Alcindoro), Gabriel Diap (Sergent)
Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Conxita Garcia (Chorus Master), Cor Vivaldi-Petits Cantors de Catalunya, Oscar Boada (Chorus Master), Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Marc Piollet (conductor)
Jonathan Miller (Stage Director), Isabella Bywater (Set & Costumes) Jean Kalman (Lightning)

(© Antoni Bofill)

Both leads had cancelled and were heroically replaced by the alternate Mimi and Rodolfo who had performed the previous evening in this long run of 14 performances of La bohème playing to full houses over a period of three weeks. With a capacity of 2,300, this means Gran Teatre del Liceu is showing this popular opera to over 30,000 spectators within a period of three weeks. Kudos to such entrepreneurship: the Liceu seems able to fill its coffers and to make opera appeal to a huge crowd without debasing the art form.

Lyric tenor Saimir Pirgu was an ideal Rodolfo with effortless high notes and dashing stage presence. This is the heaviest role so far sung by this excellent tenor, a Mozart and bel canto specialist. The timing must be right as he showed absolutely no strain. It was a delight to hear Puccini ardently sung and yet with the class and finesse of the Mozartian he is. This was Eleonora Buratto’s debut in the role of Mimi and it was a revelation. This lyric soprano, whose most frequent roles have been Contessa Almaviva, Adina and Alice Ford, was born to sing Mimi. The voice and temperament are perfectly suited for the role. The voice has natural trills, soaring high notes, natural legato, perfect diction in Italian with emphasis where it exactly ought to be, and it is distinct and immediately recognizable, a rarity in today’s globalized and standardized opera world. The supporting cast was competent. Nathalie Manfrino, more naturally a Mimi than a Musetta, was miscast in the role. One felt that she lightened her voice to suit the role, often sounding shrill. Manfrino overplayed Musetta’s coyness. It is understandable that a coquettish woman would have charisma and charm to control her admirers, but excessive vulgarity renders charm into grotesque ridicule. Artur Rucinski, an ideally cast Marcello, conveyed the artistic temperament of a struggling painter and exuded virility to convince us of his continued appeal to Musetta. This was the Polish baritone’s debut at the Liceu, and perhaps the reason why a rising singer known for his Onegin, Germont père and Conte di Luna, has stepped into a more modest role. Paul Gay, the philosopher Colline, had a commanding stage presence but sounded more like a baritone than a bass ruining his lovely aria “Vecchia zimarra”. David Menéndez, the musician Schaunard, a role with little to sing, was given extra depth by casting him as a most sensitive young man, overly shattered by Mimi’s predicament. Perhaps it’s stage director Jonathan Miller’s choice of appropriately lifting up music as the supreme muse.

The sets were based on photographs of Paris in the 1930s by Brassaï and Henri Cartier-Bresson, so they had a high degree of authenticity of Paris some 100 years after Puccini’s opera is supposed to take place. It is hard to fathom what this brings to the opera other than a director’s whim of representing the city in that period. In a brief article in the program, Jonathan Miller claims that the 1930s would somehow bring the action closer to the public. The conventional sets offer a Bohemians’ mansard that folds into Act’s II Café Momus. Unfortunately, a further modification of Café Momus turns unconvincingly into the Act III tavern by the city’s toll gate at the Barrière d’enfer. The main virtue of these easy to fold sets is the possibility of very quickly changing sets affording one instead of three intermissions, which was the Liceu’s felicitous choice. Short operas such as La bohème can be annoying when the duration of three intermissions is almost as long as that of the four short acts. Act II opens into an extremely crowded Paris, perhaps something the director felt necessary to contain as many of the photographs of Brassaï and Cartier-Bresson as possible. Act III, with its moving quartet, was possibly this production’s weakest. The conductor failed to set the mood and the stage director seems to have forwarded time yet another 100 years with climate change and a mild winter. A spectator with very good eyesight would have noticed a few flakes of snow at the beginning of the act and a few more on the ground. Again, it is hard to understand the choice of a snow-free quartet, when the feeling of cold is essential in putting forward the cruelty of the lovers’ fate as well the contrasting tenderness of postponing their inevitable separation until Spring, “la stagion’ dei fiori”.

Ossama el Naggar



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