When do you cry in La boheme?

31 Jul

I imagine that, if psychiatrists thought it worth their while, they could tell all kinds of things about the personalities of people about whether, and if they do when, people cry in La bohème.  My partner, for example, always finds that the tears start flowing in Act III at the beginning of the Rodolfo/Mimi duet and continue for the rest of that act – and it happens pretty much every time he goes to see Bohème.  For me, it happens much less frequently, but if it does, it’s usually in the Act IV duet for the two of them, as you get the reminiscences of the previous numbers.  What about anyone else?

The thought was brought on by my visit to Bohème at Glyndebourne this evening.  He sat quietly blubbing for most of Act III.

This was my fourth encounter with David McVicar’s production (I think its fifth outing at Glyndebourne).  At its first run, for the 2000 tour, I thought it one of the most immediate and impressive Bohèmes I’d seen – there was a freshness and honesty about the acting and pared-down set, the contemporary setting worked and the ensemble worked really well.  At the Festival in 2003, helped by the presence of Rolando Villazon and Nathan Gunn, it retained its flair, as it did on the 2004 tour.  Eight years on. and without McVicar on hand to rehearse, I found it had lost its immediacy: the Act II crowd scene seemed less precise and it was very hard indeed to follow what was going on without losing track of the principals, while some of the by-play between the men seemed a bit forced, as if they were following routines devised for others.

I’m not sure that Kiril Karabits in the pit helped.  This struck me as a mannered reading – often going very slowly indeed (Rodolfo’s sobs over the dead Mimi went on far, far longer than they needed to, or would have if Karabits hadn’t made such a meal of the closing chords) and sometimes at breakneck speeds.  It didn’t feel quite right – though there were some lovely details and he pointed the textures in the orchestration very well indeed.

It also made me wonder about Glyndebourne’s casting arrangements.  Bohème is an ensemble opera and it often helps if the main singers know each other, have worked together before or at least with the company.  I’m not sure how Glyndebourne had come up with this particular group of people – all of them, individually decent singers, but with all but Andrei Bondarenko making their Glyndebourne (and in some cases UK) debuts in this production I wondered whether they had gelled in the way that, for example, the Cenerentola cast had, and why Glyndebourne had chosen these individuals over others.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t some very classy individual performances indeed.  The surprise to me was Serena Farnocchia who took over Mimi for this performance (and the previous one).  She may not have the purest, most beautiful voice ever, but she sings the role marvellously: I remember the glorious crescendo starting from a really beautiful pianissimo as she described the arrival of spring, the honesty of her first confession of love for Rodolfo and the way in which she drained the voice of all its colour for the last scenel  This was a lovely performance and I felt that I very much wanted to hear her again.

David Lomeli was a burly, well-meaning Rodolfo who came into his own particularly in the last act.  I thought the finest singing came from Andrei Bondarenko as Marcello.  He has a way with the phrasing for the role and an expressive beauty about the voice which, again, made me want to hear him in any number of baritone roles – it’s a very grateful voice.  He created a rather gentle character and I’ve seen more volatile interpretations.  Irina Iordachescu made a glamorous Musetta, but made the decency of the last act come through.  The others were perfectly fine.

The performance warmed up as it went on and I found the last Act the most engrossing, if not as moving as it might be.  It was, I suppose a perfectly decent respectable performance, but I can go to Covent Garden or Opera North or ENO for those.  I thought that the point of Glyndebourne was to find an excitement and interest about a piece like this. I think the McVicar production is probably past its use-by date.

And, no, since you ask, I didn’t cry this time.

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