[Met Performance] CID:266920
New Production
La Bohème {823} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/14/1981.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 14, 1981
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds
New Production


Mimì....................Teresa Stratas
Rodolfo.................José Carreras
Musetta.................Renata Scotto
Marcello................Richard Stilwell
Schaunard...............Allan Monk
Colline.................James Morris
Benoit..................Italo Tajo
Alcindoro...............Italo Tajo
Parpignol...............Dale Caldwell
Sergeant................Glenn Bater
Officer.................James Brewer

Conductor...............James Levine

Producer................Franco Zeffirelli
Set designer............Franco Zeffirelli
Costume designer........Peter J. Hall
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

La Bohème received twenty performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. Donald D. Harrington

Review of Thor Ekert, Jr. in The Christian Science Monitor


When the curtain rose on the second act of Franco Zeffirelli's new production of "La Bohème" at the Metropolitan Opera, the audience erupted in a roar of acclaim, amazement, and even disbelief - a roar that went on for nearly a minute.

Stage designer-director Zeffirelli has quite literally recreated a typical Montmartre hill street in Paris, circa 1840. Rarely has the Met stage been more brilliantly used. The set is on three levels, with the Café Momus on the "ground" level receding back under the set. A huge staircase is on the audience's left, the chorus milling around above the indoor Momus, and there is another large staircase in the back right-hand corner of the set. By the end of the act, the audience had interrupted three more times with applause for the Zeffirelli spectacle - which culminated in a huge parade, bringing some 240 people on the Met stage.

For those who think it too busy and overblown, imagine a Paris at Christmas with a mere handful of people on stage! The "confusion" Zeffirelli creates is masterfully controlled. And the rest of the production is equally magnificent. In Act III, the inn is a small ramshackle affair in the lower right-hand corner of another massive but stunning set.

Here, the street leading to the Parisian gate sweeps down, ramplike, from audience left to right. Figures on it are blurred by the misty-snowy atmosphere (thanks to an effective scrim), yet the playing center gives the principals plenty of room to retain focus down front, while framed by a breathtakingly beautiful tableau.

The Bohemians' garret is a cutaway attic, quite literally set on the stage rooftops of Paris, complete with tiles, smoking chimney pots - a cramped, impoverished abode for the quartet this story inhabits.

It is the finest "Bohème" production this critic ever hopes to see, absolutely right for a house this size and scope. Carpers will be quick to point out that the director has been doing variations of "Bohème" for nigh 20 years now. However, this production is a culmination, a climax - similar in intent to his famous La Scala production of the '60s, but staggeringly more complex, textured, naturalistic than its celebrated predecessor.

Peter J Hall has amplified the Zeffirelli look with his exceptional costumes, and lighting designer Gil Wechsler has executed the director's vision with particular distinction. Zeffirelli has been away from the Met since he did "Otello" here superbly in 1971 far too long an absence. The Met has itself a "Bohème" it can be proud of for many years to come, which can be said for barely one of the 19th-century operatic productions John Dexter has put on that stage.

Review of Charles Michener in the December 28, 1981 issue of Newsweek

A Triumphant 'Bohème'

At dawn, outside a warmly flowing tavern on the outskirts of Paris, a gentle snow is falling over two figures -Mimi and Rodolfo, who are trying to patch up their bittersweet romance. A man bundled up in black rushes out of the tavern, oblivious to the young lovers, intent only on getting home. Hurrying down a boulevard, he stops, puts up a black umbrella and disappears into the wintry chill. If the shimmering rapture of Puccini's music isn't enough to make your heart stop, this ghostly bit of stage business will, and it is but one of many theatrical masterstrokes in the Metropolitan Opera's magnificent new production of "La Bohème."

An opera house without a "Bohème" is a Shakespeare company without a "Hamlet," but the Met had not had a real "Bohème" its own for some time. Its last production was borrowed from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, a drab, uninspired affair with coarse staging. By hiring director/designer Franco Zeffirelli, the Met decided to correct matters with a vengeance. The flamboyant Italian's previous, spectacular staging of the opera - for La Scala in 1963 - has long set the standard for international "Bohèmes," and he Met gave him a lavish bankroll to outdo himself (underwritten by a generous patroness, Mrs. Donald D. Harrington). Zeffirelli did just that: his new "Bohème" makes the superb La Scala production look like a warm-up.

Zeffirelli understands what the Puccini scholar Mosco Carner has written about
"Bohème" - that it is "the first opera in history to achieve an almost perfect fusion of romantic and realistic elements with impressionist features." His own fusion is masterly. From the smoking chimneys rising above the Paris rooftops on which Rodolfo's garret perches to the icicles on the tavern in the snow scene, from the literally hundreds of Parisians going about their Christmas Eve in the gorgeously expansive Latin Quarter scene to the intimate "close-up" scenes in which the singers seem really engaged in conversation, Zeffirelli brings out all of the opera's marvelously spontaneous, almost improvisatory quality.

Elegy: At the same time he knows that "Bohème" is essentially a dream, Puccini's intensely romantic elegy to his youth as a hungry conservatory student. The vast, subtly changing sky behind the garret - silver-gray in Act I, rosy-peach in Act IV - has the visionary quality of Caspar David Friedrich's paintings. The carnival atmosphere of Act II, complete with a stilt walker, dancing bear and Musetta's horse-drawn hansom cab, is a Delacroix riot of reds and golds. Zeffirelli stages the mock duel between Colline and Schaunard in Act IV as a mad scamper along the rooftops - shades of "Scaramouche."

On a triumphant [first] night, James Levine's conducting showed more sensitivity than in the past to the score's richness of impressionistic detail, without sacrificing its romantic surge. The singers, led by Teresa Stratas as an exquisitely febrile Mimi and Jose Carreras as the ardent Rodolfo, were generally up to Zeffirelli's demands for full-bodied naturalism. As Musetta, Renata Scotto was the perfect antithesis of the woman on whom Henry Mürger partially based the original character in his 1851 novel "Scenes de la Vie de Bohème," the source of Puccini's opera. Her name was Marie Roux and she was said to have a "pretty, out-of-tune voice." Scotto's voice was in tune but not pretty -and her outrageous scene grabbing in Act II belonged in another, much lesser "Bohème."

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