Puccini's evergreen La bohème was chosen for the "first" opening of the opera season at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, at last with full seating allowed. A "second" opening will take place in November, with a Mario Martone production of Otello, starring Jonas Kaufmann.

La bohème at Teatro di San Carlo
© Lucinao Romano

Director Emma Dante sets the sad tale of Bohemian artists in an overcrowded tower block in the suburbs, where the four young men live on the precarious edge of poverty. Actually, they dwell outdoors on a rooftop, with the upper floors inhabited by flamboyantly dressed crowd overlooking the protagonists from their windows. Every now and then, on a higher roof, a quirky procession of nuns comes out, with a cardinal dressed in red, which made me think of similar figures flashing in Fellini's dreamlike scenes. This was on a par to the love duet in Act 1, staged with an explicit reference to Marc Chagall's La Promenade, when the two lovers dream of flying away from misery and grief. 

In spite of the abstruse stunt of entertaining the audience with acrobats and clowns during the scene change, and contrary to most Regietheater enactments, the setting was not disturbing, though. Dante’s staging is basically traditional, to the point of even respecting the original story's 1830s fashions. In Act 2, the hustle and bustle of the Christmas market is really picturesque, colourful and high-spirited, showing off all the love of life of the Latin Quarter residents. Act 3, at the Barrière d'Enfer, is straightforward and clean, maybe the most essential and enjoyable from a dramaturgical point of view.

Stephen Costello (Rodolfo) and Selene Zanetti (Mimì)
© Luciano Romano

Soprano Selene Zanetti offered a Mimì with clear phrasing while conveying a hint of heartfelt fragility; she showed a fine knack for melody and a deep sense of drama, but without truly great moments. American tenor Stephen Costello sang Rodolfo with a brace on his arm due to a shoulder fracture caused by a fall a few days before. Thus, he could hardly give Mimì a hug, when the passions between them started to flare up. Nonetheless, at times the chemistry between them worked, as in some moments the warmth of the two lovers' passion reached the audience. This was especially so in Act 3 when the tension explodes between the seamstress and the poet, with Rodolfo tormented by poverty and guilt and Mimì both numb with cold but burning with love.

Polish baritone Andrzej Filończyk brought sincerity and energy to the painter Marcello, with a robust sound and a convincing depiction of the character. Benedetta Torre was Musetta, depicting her character’s extravagance with finesse, never being less than amiable and sweet. Her timbre sounded light but with a quite important volume, seductive in “Quando m’en vo’” but also touching in the despair surrounding Mimì's death (on a mattress en plein air) in Act 4. The supporting roles were properly cast. Pietro Di Bianco was a Schaunard with a good baritone; Alessandro Spina was a reliable Colline, and sang his self-pitying “Vecchia zimarra” with compassion. Matteo Peirone correctly performed both Benoît and Alcindoro.

La bohème at Teatro di San Carlo
© Luciano Romano

Juraj Valčuha conducted singers, orchestra and chorus with sensitivity, trying to reach the utmost balance between them. In doing so, he didn't underline the passionate moments much, although leaving some room for emotion. In a few passages where the singers' voices sounded quiet (mainly Rodolfo's), Valčuha kept the dynamics of Puccini's score down, to be as singer-friendly as possible. But even so, Rodolfo's final cry “Mimì” in front of his dead lover hardly pierced the orchestral wall. The Act 2 ensemble confirmed the good shape of the chorus, prepared by Josè Luis Basso, with the contribution of Stefania Rinaldi's children’s chorus.

***11