Monday, June 13, 2011

La Boheme preview 2011-2012 season

Here is a clip from the HD performance

The Production
Zeffirelli’s classic production of La Boheme returns to the Met. Ever since the Met opened Zefirelli's production in 1982 with Teresa Stratas, Jose Carreras and Renata Scotto, the production has been beloved by audiences and hated by critics because of its grandeur and big sets. Critics have also stated that the singers get lost in the sets. However if a singer is truly great, they will not allow anything to get in their way of accomplishing a great performance. Like audiences, I love the detail Zeffierelli adds to the sets. He creates the world of the opera as no other director has been able to and immerses you into the work. Zefierelli does not add any conceptual ideas or any new elements to the story and because of this it is not specific in any way allowing the singers to add their own interpretations. Originally this production was to be changed next year and therefore was not to be given this season. However Gelb feared a reaction similar to that of Tosca. Therefore he has stated that productions such as those of Turandot and La Boheme will remain at the house for a longer period.

The Cast
A staple of the Met and quite possibly the most popular opera, La Boheme returns to the Met with a relatively unknown cast. This is an odd move for Mr. Gelb as the last few Boheme runs Gelb has tried to add stars to the rosters artists that have included the likes of Anna Netrebko, Vittorio Grigolo, Ramon Vargas and Angela Gheorghiu. This year Hibla Gerzmava and Hei-Kyung Hong will take on the role of Mimi, a feat that will be difficult especially with the legacy of great singers who have done the role to acclaim most recently Netrebko. Last year when the roster for L’Contes d’Hoffman was announced there were also relatively unknown singers except for Ildar Abadrazakov and Giuseppe Fillianoti. However the three lovers were unknown to me and to the Met audience. I wondered where Mr. Gelb had heard of these artists and if they were any good. Hibla Gerzmava was among this roster.  Hibla Gerzmava made her Met debut last year in the role of Antonia, a role she triumphed in. Having seen both Netrebko and Gerzmava in the same role and production, I will state that Gerzmava was much better. Her voice soared with confidence and beauty something Netrebko’s interpretation lacked. In addition her characterization was more sincere. Gerzmava is not new to the role of Mimi as she has sung it to great acclaim at the Royal Opera House, a performance that was recorded and produced on DVD by Opus Arte. Therefore there is no doubt that Gerzmava can triumph on this role and likely become a household name at the Met. Hei-Kyung Hong returns to the role of Mimi a role she sang for the first time at Met in 1987. Hong made her debut in 1984 and ever since has been on the Met roster for quite a long time. but ever since Mr. Gelb became General Manager of the Met she has not been cast as a principal singer. Instead she has been relegated to being a cover and to very few performances. A few years back she sang an incredible Violetta in La Traviata but since then she has been gone from the principal roster. However it was last year when she replaced the superstar Angela Gheorghiu, in the role of Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette that Gelb saw her quality and immediately cast her for this series of Bohemes. Coincidentally, during the Volpe age, the only chance I got to hear Hong was also in the role of Antonia. Like Gerzmava her voice soared. She brought youth to her character as well as delicacy and beauty. I recall her high notes being exquisite and pure. Having heard her Juliette from last year, her voice is no longer as youthful and pure as it used to be. However she still maintains the beauty and color of the voice. The voice is also more fragile which may help add to the character of Mimi. Having these two non star divas as the leads I hope both triumph so that Gelb notices that there is more to a voice then the 
marketing behind the singer.

Hibla Gerzmava as Mimì. Photograph: Johan Persson

Dimitri Pittas returns to the Met after a two year absence. He was last seen at the Met in the role of Nemorino in L'Elsir d'Amore in 2009. He made his debut back in 2005 in the role of a Herald in Don Carlo. However, it was not until 2007 in the role of Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth that he became noticed. He brought youth to his performance, a performance that was recorded live in HD. However Pittas is not an actor, something that I immediately noticed when I saw him in L’Elisir d’Amore. He can sing beautifully but his physical does not help his stage presence. He is short and chubby and therefore can be easily lost in the massive Met stage. In addition, his physical does not allow him to move across the stage with ease. Instead, he looks uncomfortable at times as he moves. However, I am sure he will make a good Rodolfo if not great one.

Susanna Phillips returns to her calling card role of Mussetta. Phillips is charismatic and a very good actress. There is no doubt she will be great. She may even steal the show because of the experience she has with the role.

I am really interested in seeing how well this show sells especially with no stars and with raised ticket prices. In addition, I am wondering if Gerzmava will succeed and if people will finally notice her. 

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