|New York audiences have loved Franco Zeffirellis La Bohème at the Met for 28 years. Now EMI has put Puccinis anthem to 20 something singles on DVD for everyone to enjoy. Audiences who followed Seinfeld, and Friends on TV will feel right at home with the romantic life of Puccinis unmarried urbanites who are short of cash, long on hormones, a combination that puts loyal camaraderies in conflict with sexual disloyalties.
Behind the comfy television stereotypes are gritty bohemian stereotypes that make the story even more trenchant because they embody the dreams of middle-class college students who, for a time, want to be starving artists freezing in a garret, loving and losing freely, celebrating life with temporary immunity from long-term consequences. La Bohème says it all about that stage of life as Zeffirellis earlier iconic success, Romeo and Juliet, says it all about an earlier stage of life, teenage lovers who live with their parents.
Puccinis music comes right from the heart, is beautifully orchestrated, and follows the drama of common characters who express larger than life emotions in full lyric flow of melodies as affecting and memorable as any from popular musical theatre. Not surprising that Jonathan Larson borrowed characters, storyline and melodies from Puccini for his 1994 award winning musical, Rent. Puccini, like Charles Dickens, had that combination of common touch and dreams of the heart that bring audience pleasure to the fullness of tears.
The casting is ideal with Angela Gheorghiu and Ramon Vargas in the principal roles. Both possess truly beautiful voices. Gheorghiuss voice has an opalescent, fragile timbre that conveys a hint of Mimis terminal lung disease. Vargas has a bright, lyric sound that lands lightly on the high C in Che Gelida Manina. Both artists display musical intelligence and an unmatched chemistry that shows in their acting. It is great to have a camera zoom in to catch the sincerity of emotion in their facial expressions, especially Mimis sexiness that ripples through every part of her body as she and Rodolfo prepare to leave for the first time the room in which they fell in love.
Every one of the principals is attractive, sings beautifully, acts well. The sets are monumental, the camera work exemplary, audio is great, and the bonus backstage moments hosted by Renee Fleming round out a recommended without reservation rating.
by Stanley Fefferman April 2009