“La bohème” is one of the ultimate Christmas productions of any opera house. As well as being seasonal and beautiful, it is guaranteed to sell the house and there is also a show on Christmas Day, which is a magical experience in itself. Directed by Kálmán Nádasdy, Hungarian State Opera’s production of Puccini’s heartbreaking love story is truly unmissable.
After the shockingly poor “La bohème 2.0” with its cheap, tawdry set and pantomime humour, the long-awaited return to the elaborate and sublime traditional version is welcome. “La bohème 2.0” returned to Erkel Theatre last month after its première this year, and although it clearly appealed to some theatregoers, the only real show-stealers were the golden notes of Puccini flowing from the orchestra pit. Glowing première it was not.
Last year’s traditional “La bohème” contained the essence of winter with visually stunning set designs by Gusztáv Oláh adding to the magic of Christmas floating through the air, but unlike “The Nutcracker” which is interspersed with the opera throughout December, Puccini’s elegant work is a tragic and emotional drama.
In “La bohème”, the composer created fully three-dimensional characters with his four main leads; the dynamic friendship between Rodolfo and Marcello agonising over their artistic poverty through to Act 3 where jealousy reigns supreme, before the sharp shocking pain of the final act.
The role of Rodolfo is shared by Charles Castronovo with Attila Fekete the alternate. Fekete is fresh from his recent performance in “Tosca” where he glided through the high notes with a sound to rival Jonas Kaufmann. Csaba Szegedi and Levente Molnár are cast in the role of Marcello.
Mimì is the most vital role in “La bohème” as she is the central point from which everything else radiates. The importance of casting the innocent and tender-hearted Mimì is essential as she is one of opera’s true tragic heroines; as delicate and pure as the snowflakes that fall through the winter sky and too fragile for the cold heart of bohemian Paris.
Mimì is performed by the delicate Andrea Rost, who is capable of singing the role to a perfection that would make the composer himself weep as she spins out those achingly emotional notes of pain and beauty.
The alternate is supremely talented Armenian soprano Karine Babajanyan, who has an extensive global repertoire. Zita Váradi and Orsolya Hajnalka Rőser star as the deliciously flirtatious Musetta.
Shifting heavy opera sets without interrupting the flow of the storyline appears effortless as the action moves from the confines of the attic room to the street scene, and then is reversed between Acts 3 and 4. Within minutes the set is switched into winter wonderlands, as though at the hands of an expert magician.
The beautiful snowy street scene of Act 3 provides the backdrop to the most tragic music in Puccini’s masterpiece, where the pain of jealousy and twisted love sends those hauntingly sad notes of Mimì hurtling through the winter sky.
It is here where the orchestral score reaches the dizzying heights of heartbreak as it swirls through layer upon layer of pain, a dramatic circling score and libretto that both speak of the anguish of love.
Love isn’t sweet and delicate like those tender beginnings in the freezing attic apartment, but instead full of ever-intensifying hurt, angst and irrationality.
(There are two casts,
so check the website for details)
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