[Met Performance] CID:158090
La Bohème {454} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 11/24/1951.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 24, 1951 Matinee


LA BOHÈME {454}
Puccini-Illica/Giacosa

Mimì....................Victoria de los Angeles
Rodolfo.................Giuseppe Di Stefano
Musetta.................Patrice Munsel
Marcello................Frank Guarrera
Schaunard...............Clifford Harvuot
Colline.................Cesare Siepi
Benoit..................Lorenzo Alvary
Alcindoro...............Alessio De Paolis
Parpignol...............Paul Franke
Sergeant................Carlo Tomanelli

Conductor...............Alberto Erede

Director................Désiré Defrère
Set designer............Joseph Novak
Costume designer........Blaschke & Cie

La Bohème received seventeen performances this season.

[J. Novak designed the set only for Acts I and IV.]

Review of James Hinton Jr. in Musical America

The season's first performance of Puccini's " La Bohème" was a routine affair, distinguishable from routine performances of other seasons mainly by the fact that there were three singers new to their roles and a new conductor. Patrice Munsel sang her first Musetta at the Metropolitan, Frank Guarrera his first Marcello, and Alessio de Paolis his first Alcindoro. The new face (or back) in the pit was that of Alberto Erede. The other members of the cast were familiar in varying degrees - Victoria de los Angeles as Mimi, Giuseppe Di Stefano as Rodolfo (replacing Jussi Bjoerling, who was ill), Cesare Siepi as Colline, Clifford Harvout as Schaunard, Lorenzo Alvary as Benoit, Paul Franke as Parpignol, and Carlo Tornanelli as the Sergeant.

Everybody sang at least passably well, and Mr. Erede gave an adequate, if not at all inspired, reading of the score. There was a general lack of real musical or dramatic life. Matters were not helped, to say the very least, by Desire Defrère's stage direction.

It is perhaps not entirely fair to Mr. Defrère to treat his productions as if he was able to exercise full control over them. After returning to the Metropolitan in 1935, toward the end of a long and honorable singing career, he became a stage manager; singing less and less, he took on more administrative duties and gradually inherited the responsibility for staging of a number of standard operas. But piecing together an old production in minimum rehearsal time is a different thing than working out a new production. Mr. Defrère's operas, like this "La Bohème," represent an incrustation of old settings, standard opera-house business at least thirty years old, and "traditions," plus (and minus) the vagaries of a long procession of variously endowed singers. Is it any wonder that all was not for the best in what is widely referred to as the world's greatest opera house?

The four Bohemians hopped, skipped, and bounced frantically around the stage. They flung their arms about without motivation and spewed mouthfuls of stage wine into the prompter's box. It all became exceedingly nerve-racking; and the youth of the quartet (they would scarcely average over thirty) made their excesses seem all the more grotesque. This sort of free-for-all alternated with extremely static periods - notably in the duets between Mimi and Rodolfo, where the natural placidity of Mr. Di Stefano and Miss De los Angeles asserted itself. Where thoroughly experienced chorus members were involved, as at the beginning of the third act, things went much better; but at almost every crucial point the staging either failed to make its points or made wrong ones. Somebody should at least teach Mr. Di Stefano to time his movement at the very end so as not to spoil Puccini's climax.

The newcomers took on the coloration of their surroundings. Only Mr. De Paolis' Alcindoro was really a creative effort. The character he presented - a wizened, jerky little roué - was a good deal more specific than the common, run-of-the-mill Alcindoro. He stole the second act as completely as it can be stolen, even by so practiced a buffo as Salvatore Baccaloni. Miss Munsel had been suffering from a virus infection and was not in very bright voice. Nor was her impersonation much of an advance over the shrewish, common, anachronism-ridden Musettas of recent Metropolitan seasons. It is just plain impossible for Musetta's solicitude to be credible in the last act if up to that point she has projected nothing but wantonness and a nasty temper. Mr. Guarrera, the most vigorous bouncer of all the Bohemians, sang with a firm body of tone but without the attention to line and dynamic shadings that might have raised his accomplishment above the routine.

Of the familiar participants, Miss De los Angeles and Mr. Di Stefano both profited from being the possessors of fresh, extremely beautiful voices. Miss De los Angeles sang everything up to A with pure, clear tone, and Puccini took care of her rather edgy top tones. She did not act with much distinction, but the only other thing missing was a really live appreciation of the pathos that could be extracted from Mimi's music within the framework of her accurate and musical account of it. Her performance was lovely but not often touching. What use is it to sing Mimi well if you don't make the audience choke up with your "senza rancor" at the end of the third act? Mr. D. Stefano made a good deal more use of expressive devices, but did not communicate very much ardor. His acting was vestigial. Mr. Siepi looked well, and he sang his farewell to the coat in good style. Mr. Harvuot's appearance suffered from a very odd wig, and his voice sounded hollow. Mr. Franke, Mr. Alvary, and Mr. Tomanelli all discharged their duties with competence.



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