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  La Boheme on the big screen - an Australian view from inside the theatre.

Matinee Sat 5th April 2008

La Boheme with Gheorghiu/Vargas. Puccini. 1.30pm Sat 5th April 2008.

Dear Colleagues,

This was a marvellous example of the hundreds of outings of this Zeffirelli production beamed out to the cinema screens and radio stations across the world. I may see it on the wide screen or DVD some day but it was certainly interesting to see such an opera in the theatre itself. As the curtain rose on each setting there was applause which now seems inevitable … as one is transported to the attic garret, bustling inner Paris or its outskirts. There seemed to be more people than ever on stage at the start of act 2.

Two minor accidents occurred: in the first, two round hat boxes bounced off a cart in the Momus scene, one ending up in the orchestra pit. It appeared to be light and probably caused no damage as one orchestra member passed it to the 'rear' of the deep Met pit. Musetta and her consort arrived in a Surrey drawn by a donkey which seems to have had an incident on the stage left which was quickly cleaned up by a black cloaked stage hand or chorus member as the action moved to the right. The poor animal was only on stage for less than a minute!

From the rear orchestra stalls seats it was somewhat disconcerting to have six cameras in one's lateral field of view throughout the performance (and another two behind). Two of them were on long roving rods which were constantly raised and lowered from long telescopic booms originating in the front lowest box on each side. There was also one remote-controlled camera which rolled constantly from side to side on a track above the footlights (and just above the height of the prompter's box). Some of the cameras were actually in the orchestra seating so that a small number of patrons must have been distracted and I imagine those adjacent would have been compensated in some way by the Met.

The cameras were a reminder of the immediacy of this performance going out to the world on digital high definition and high fidelity audio. Opera is always like walking a 'tight-rope’ and live filming raises the tension, stakes and risk levels greatly.

The lovers Ramon Vargas and Angela Gheorghiu sang superbly as radio and cinema audiences can judge for themselves. While they are well known to opera goers the world over, the rest of the strong cast and conductor were all unknown to me until this performance (except the ubiquitous veteran Paul Plishka who ‘played Paul Plishka’ as rent collector and Alcindoro). Ludovic Tezier as Marcello; Oren Gradus as Colline; Quinn Kelsey as Schaunard; Ainhoa Arterta as Musetta. Conductor Nicola Luisotti directed the orchestra in a score they must all know by heart. He kept the pace lively and happily did not try to put his own ‘stamp’ on this opera gem.

I hope others enjoyed the performance as much as I did. I personally disapprove of Vargas going up to the high note for the finale of Act I off-stage, but no further correspondence will be entered into on this subject. OK, he did it. It was accurate, if somewhat shortened. It was not beautiful, while the soprano could have sung for much longer (as could Vargas) if using the notes come scritto by Puccini. One correspondent thought it was taken down a semitone but I left my tuning fork at home for fear of setting off metal detectors.

Lots more to say (elsewhere) about the other principals who all sang brilliantly.

The intermission quiz was great fun (for once only half full), taking place in the theatrette in the Met basement on OP side of the stage. It was hosted by bass Justino Diaz who was well humoured and knowledgeable. We saw bits and pieces of Ms Fleming interviewing the cast backstage, yet another imposition of this modern exercise of televising performances. The principals, (tenor especially) are on stage for much of the opera and now they are expect to give interviews in the brief intermissions! We were told that the libretto of Boheme contains mention of 20 animals and the panellists were asked to name as many as they could. The ran out after beaver, salmon and a couple of others given hints and in desperation the audience was asked to help. A voice recognition question had 4 basses doing a few bars from the coat song (they could have used Caruso but chose Ezio Pinza). The pianist played some music representing cold scenes from Arabella, Mazappa, Fanciulla and others.

I can recommend the new arrangements for obtaining returned tickets on the day of the performance by using the Met internet booking site. But you need to log on at exactly 10am for best results. This means that one can be almost certain of getting tickets in some reserve or other (even if only standing room, of which over 100 are sold ONLY on the day of the performance).

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

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