The opera season at Teatro Verdi in Salerno ended with La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini, a masterpiece the public love like few others: in fact, it has been among the most frequently performed operas all over the world, since it premièred in 1896.

Puccini’s work is a beautiful piece of music theatre which, to be enjoyed, needs only to be sung and played with veracity and passion: such is the case for this production, which rests on a solid, excellent cast and an expert conductor, more than on the unadorned staging of Jean-Daniel Laval.

The director handled the setting with great austerity, though he avoided being shallow or imprecise, and maintained the piece’s youthful vitality and fascination. One could say that there lacked no bare essentials for a decent staging of the love story between Rodolfo and the sickly, simple-hearted Mimì.

The moving tale of love and despair came to life in Salerno’s small opera house with all-traditional staging and iconography: a few chairs in the miserable garret where the four young wannabe artists live, two tiny tables to evoke Café Momus in the crowded Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve, video-projected snowfall at the Barrière d’Enfer. The only licence the props manager took was an old armchair where Mimì dies of consumption, in place of the bed required by the libretto.

The cast of singers showed great homogeneity and flexibility. Dinara Alieva played Mimì with personality and gained the favour of the audience with her very first aria, “Mi chiamano Mimì”, with which the protagonist introduces herself to Rodolfo as a modest girl whose humble life is heartened by the innocent dreams she has while watching the stars from her window over the roofs of Paris. Alieva’s singing was characterized by delicate phrasing and caressing pianissimos. She rendered the ill-fated seamstress an absolutely real figure and with her unsophisticated style and heartfelt vocal beauty, portrayed Mimì’s fragile charm without any histrionics.

In the role of Rodolfo, tenor Stefano Secco obtained a personal success. Secco has a very pleasant voice, just a little less beautiful in high notes than in the rest of the extension; on Saturday night he displayed his solid vocal technique in the use of different registers and masterful legato, as well as in his expert diction. He made the most of Rodolfo’s big arias, the part being congenial to his gleaming vocal tone. When he confides to Marcello his fears over Mimì’s health, while the ailing girl is eavesdropping nearby, Secco conveys the beauty of the lyrical intimacy of the character with his neat, not powerful but intense sound.

The rest of the Bohemians, fine singers all, were baritone Ionut Pascu, an excellent Marcello; soprano Jessica Pratt as Musetta; bass Carlo Striuli as Colline; and baritone Fabio Previati’s Schaunard. Pascu, whose voice has strong colour and sound timbre, moved with ease on stage and outlined a jovial and vibrant Marcello, though also capable of introspection and melancholy.

Jessica Pratt sang Musetta well, though she was less convincing in the great scene in Café Momus, where she coquettishly teases her former lover Marcello, than in fourth act, when she reveals her compassionate side with empathetic transport, not remaining trapped in the floozie-with-a-heart-of-gold cliché.

Lively, brilliant and engaging, Fabio Previati is a veteran in the role of Schaunard, having interpreted the musician several times and recently at the Arena di Verona. Carlo Striuli portrayed a good Colline, maybe not so elegant in his deportment on stage, but with a dense, well- modulated voice; yet his interpretation of “Vecchia zimarra” (“Old coat”) was too low-key and demure, as he sung it completely detached from the rest of the scene. This aria is often treated by directors and performers as an aside, an interpolation which is dramaturgically not necessary; in my opinion, it is quite the opposite, “Vecchia zimarra” should be integrated in the overall frame both musically and scenically.

Benoît and Alcindoro, both interpreted by Angelo Nardinocchi, were well portrayed, and the Parpignol of Francesco Pittari, though a one-line role, was noticeable.

The orchestra of Teatro Verdi played very well indeed, and diligently followed Daniel Oren, who conducted with great intelligence and the usual personal touch, either benevolently accompanying the musicians or demanding more from them, at times hardly repressing harsh cries, when some key passages needed to be emphasised. Oren achieved a good acoustic balance between singers and music, turning down the orchestra when this could drown out the voices, yet managing to keep the colours and nuances of the score.

Both the chorus (directed by Marco Faelli) and the children’s chorus (directed by Silvana Noschese) were effortlessly in synch with the choices of the conductor, who has become quite an institution in Salerno, where he is achieving terrific results in building up a local renowned musical tradition.