Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme is in good hands at the Metropolitan Opera House—and very happily in good voice—certainly as long as Russell Thomas is Rodolfo and Angel Blue is Mimi. Both singers have emotionally rich voices able to give the young lovers the joy and poignancy that Henri Murger based on his experiences as an impoverished artist in his Scenes de la Vie de Boheme and adapted to the opera stage by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica.
Thomas and Blue bring something even more unexpectedly affecting to the work. Since this is his debut as Rodolfo and since Blue has very recently made hers as Mimi, there’s something about their being young performers that further underlines the depiction of the joys and tragedies young lovers encounter.
That Mimi and Rodolfo fall deeply in love on about a half hour’s notice is usually been taken for granted. It’s the accepted given. But somehow with Thomas and Blue playing the swiftly enamored twosome, a certain understanding of the act three developments when the two are on the verge of separating finally.
Mimi’s explaining Rodolfo’s jealous nature to Marcello (Michael Todd Simpson, also singing with notable concern) registers the problem accruing to love at first sight. Since first impassioned sightings rarely reveal who the lovers are in all aspects, the act takes on a more layered reality. Rodolfo does explain to Marcello that he’s really worried about his ability to watch Mimi’s painful descent, but Mimi and Rodolfo having learned more about each other still remains cogent.
Opera lovers know, of course, that the Met’s La Boheme is Franco Zeffirelli’s 36-year-old production. (Peter Gelb seems to have learned a lesson after scrapping Zeffirelli’s Tosca. As Zeffirelli might have said himself: You dismiss him at your peril.) And the director-designer’s product is certainly in fine shape.
Particularly striking are the sequences in Rodolfo’s confining garret where the aspiring artists, pooling scarce francs for candles, fetch up. The horseplay in which Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline (Matthew Rose) and Schaunard (Duncan Rock) indulge is as lively as ever, maybe livelier—particularly when baritone Rock is in action.
N. B.: Paul Plishka is Benoit, the only role he’s taking on this year. He’s celebrating his fiftieth Met anniversary, having sung in over 1600 performances. Who else has amassed such a record?
Alexander Soddy, whose Met debut year this also is, conducted as if this were the opera’s premier performance. At 35, he provided yet another testament to La Boheme’s love affair with youth.