The Teatro alla Scala celebrates Franco Zeffirelli's centenary with yet another reprise (the 24th!) of his legendary Bohème, created in 1963, when the conductor was a certain Herbert von Karajan. The show is pure Zeffirelli: grand, opulent, literal, an instant classic. It dazzles with an overcrowded, colourful Quartier Latin in Act 2, and with a dreamlike snow scene in Act 3. But the qualities I appreciated the most were others: the cinematographic precision of the acting – the characters movements and behaviours are realistic, well thought out – and, most of all, the deep understanding and almost religious respect for the music and the voices.

Café Momus, Act 2
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Panels are seamlessly incorporated in the sets, to help the singers with projection, and, during Act 2's spectacular crowd scene at Café Momus, in the turmoil of people moving and things happening on stage, the singers who had their own lines to deliver always happened to be in a spot where they were perfectly audible, as if illuminated by the aural equivalent of a spotlight. This was also due to conductor Eun Sun Kim, whose dynamics were always very respectful of the stage. The La Scala orchestra sounded rich and velvety, beautifully transparent in the snow scene. Both orchestra and chorus (prepared by Alberto Malazzi) seemed very at ease in this musical and theatrical landscape; they wear this opulent, glittery production as a cosy old coat.

Marina Rebeka (Mimì) and Luca Micheletti (Marcello)
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Marina Rebeka, fresh from I vespri siciliani here at La Scala, took the role of Mimì for the first time in Milan. She came out a bit stern, perhaps lacking some of Mimì’s girlish freshness, but the voice is beautiful, well supported, with secure high notes and splendid filati. Her “Mi chiamano Mimì” was much appreciated, and I thought her death was poignant, bringing a deluge of tears in the house. Rodolfo was Freddie De Tommaso, a young British-Italian tenor who’s been singing in the biggest houses in Europe, with great success, making a strong impression at the Royal Opera House back in 2021, when he stepped in to substitute for Bryan Hymel in Tosca. His tenor is powerful, with a somewhat dark colour, but easy in the high register; the high C in “Che gelida manina” was centred and beautiful. His emission is delightfully old-fashioned, with natural portamenti, for a truly Italianate, spontaneous sound. The only fault was an occasional lack of brilliance in the high notes. At times his high notes “point inward”, as if he was not finding the correct resonances in his skull and mask, and they don’t bloom as much as they could. But he’s not even 30 years old, which is extremely young for an opera singer, so he’ll have plenty of time to refine the technique supporting a remarkable, beautiful instrument.

Freddie De Tommaso (Rodolfo) and Marina Rebeka (Mimì)
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The supporting cast was extremely good. Irina Lungu, as Musetta, is a solid singer with great stage presence, who was equally convincing in her flirting as a capricious coquette, as in her sincere support and love for Mimì in her dying moments. She will sing Mimì in the second part of this run. Marcello was Luca Micheletti, also fresh from a success in Vespri, an accomplished singer-actor whose strong baritone was very well suited to the role of the young painter. His interpretation was committed and engaging, his acting a notch better than all of his colleagues on stage. 

Jongmin Park (Colline), Freddie De Tommaso, Alessio Arduini (Schaunard) and Luca Micheletti
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Jongmin Park’s bass has a basso profondo quality which at times tends to be a bit too cavernous, but his performance was elegant and enjoyable, his Coat aria moving in its simplicity. The quartet of young artists was completed by Alessio Arduini as Schaunard, and I’m happy to report that (perhaps for the first time) I was actually able to hear Schaunard sing the “parrot” aria in the first act: it usually gets completely lost in the chit-chat of his friends, excited for the food he has brought home – another testament to Zeffirelli’s attention to the musical context, and Kim’s respect for the singers.

The loggionisti had their usual little show of inexplicably booing the conductor; Kim was at her debut at La Scala, and, to be honest, the couple of boos from above were drowned in applause. Her reading might not have been particularly original, but she led the whole ensemble with a strong hand, for a very successful performance.