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By Oliver Macdonald

 

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Opera Correspondent Oliver Macdonald is an Irish opera lover who lives in Vienna.  His service career as a military officer brought him to 42 different countries, many of which had opera houses. Oliver’s opera interest began at age 13 when his school twice a year attended performances of the Dublin Grand Opera Society (1941-1966).  It was here in 1962 that he recognized the potential of a young Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, amongst others. A fortuitous military posting to Wexford in 1967 opened the doors to the Wexford Festival Opera which he attended for many years.  A posting to Vienna in 1999 has led to attendance at more than 1800 opera performances there since. From 2001 he spent four years at the best Opera University in the world - the queue for tickets for Stehplatz Parterre at the Vienna State Opera. Oliver wrote a column called "Nights at the Opera" for Austrian newspaper, and had an "opera in Vienna" blog. He has been a Commentator for all the Opera houses in Vienna.

 
 
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La Bohème

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna 29, September 2019


At last it has happened ! !t was wonderful and played not only to a full house but also to an extra 300 people gathered on Karajan Platz to watch it on the huge outdoor screenas Vienna enjoyed a relatively balmy Indian Summer's evening.

 I was reminded of operatic experiences in Tblisi, Georgia a long time ago in 1994. One of these was watching a performance of Yevgeniy Onegin (Eugene one gin) in a freezing cold theatre.  It was so cold that the singers' breathing was emitted as a visible vapour which was quite intriguing to watch as we sat there in winter overcoats and fur hats,  Literally, a unique experience.

Much more importantly, I heard a young soprano whose exceptional voice, appearance and personality made me tell her that she would become a wonderful Mimi before too long..  Sure enough, the following year she was informed that she had been selected to sing Mimi with Luciano Pavarotti in some of the centenary performances of La Boheme in Torino in 1996.. Now some 23 years later Juliette Galstian is Head of Singing at the Conservatoire in Geneva.

Fast forward to November 2014 i saw a young,very gifted Russian singer playing a very lively Musetta in La Boheme and heard her sing in concert about 10 days later..Obviously a great addition to the Ensemble as has been proven so many times since. However from the beginning I instinctively wanted her to be Mimi.

La Boheme at the Wiener Staatsoper is the closest thing to the perfect production I have seen. Produced by the late Franco Zefirelli the opening of the second act is the only scene I have ever known to be  warmly applauded by a delighted audience for its own sake.I think this production was first played in 1992.  This performance was the 438th, but like so many other performances in its long history it was a special one.  Although there were two role debutantes, it was a family occasion in that all members of the cast are members of the House Ensemble. The much applauded conductor, Louis Langree,is at least a close cousin as he has been conducting this production here since September 2010. The effect of this was eveness of voices.  The four bohemian artists were very credible and were vocally and dramatically mutually supportive. 

I had two quibbles abou the first act: one, the four were disgustingly neat and well dressed which somewhat betrayed their supposed state of impoverishment and two, and Rodolfo's (Jinxu Xiahou) quill must have been a fountain quill as it scribbled without resort to an inkwell.  Rodolfo was vocally and dramatically very strong throughout.  He was so good that I was afraid he was going to break down with grief before the end.

Adrian Eröd is his usual excellent self as Marcello but he struck me as been a sloppy painter!  His diction is the best I know regardless of the language in which he is singer.. His interchanges with Musetta were a cautionary tale of the hazards posed by tempremental changes.  Jongmin Park was an exemplary philosopher whose aria to his beloved coat was deservedly well received.  Clemens Unterreiner was a last minute replacement as Schaunard and it has to said that both he and his dulcet baritone were comfortable throughout..  Just to make sure we knew he is the musician of the quartet he acquired a French horn at the beginning of the second act - or was it an Austrian one?

MarkusPellz, who celebrates twenty years at the Staatsoper this year was a curious mix of a cowed landlord (Benoit), who was disposed of with ease by his tenants in the garret, and the pretendu sugar daddy (Alcindoro)who endsup with a hefty bill from the cafe Momus .. As for the stilted Parpignol, the hero of the street I always worry whether he is in danger of being tripped up by somebody on the crowded stage. And so to the debutantes:  Bryony Dwyer (Musetta)  Her antics around the Cafe Momus and interplay with Alcindoro, Marcello, and of course Mimi was a wonderful display of the complexities of this woman. It was crowned with great musical piece, Musetta's waltz.  As it ended Marcello swirled her to his side where she radiated contented happiness in contrast to the vixen who leaves Marcello at the end of Act Three with a look that would stop a bus,  before the wonderful caring person she is as Mimi is dying.

Then, at last, the fulfilment of the vision of November 2014, Aida Garifullina is Mimi, a Mimi who captured the audience from the moment she enters the garret with her candlestick; through the wonderful singing with Rodolfo in the conveniently empty garret; as they depart with the triple "Amor"; to the excitements of Paris and the Cafe Momus; through the dreadful sadness of the freezing cold morning as she searched for Rodolfo, much too lightly dressed to be out  in the snow at 6 am, then to have to overhear Rodolfo, her coughing betraying the oncoming consumption from which she dies in the final Act back in the garret.  She is beautiful, gentle, loving and yet so vulnerable and ill-fated.  Isn't life so unfair. Having dabbed the tear- filled eyes, the entire audience reaches out to her as their own and burst into applause,applause for everyone but most of all for their Mimi  As the the applause fades  quietness descends.  It has been a special performance of La Boheme, A Boheme with an unforgettable  Mimi.  It was a long wait but the happy memories will be much longer.

Oliver Macdonald

Vienna Operablog

30 September 2019



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