I adore La Bohème.  I am a big, weepy mess nearly every time I see it.  From "Si, mi chiamano Mimì" to Rodolfo's anguished cries of "Mimì!", I go through tissue after tissue.  Since I was the age of these Bohemians, they have been my friends. The more I see and hear La Bohème, the more amazed I am at the music of Puccini and the libretto of Giacosa and Illica. I love the economy and efficiency in capturing each character's personality, the way in which these scenes capture a story arc with very conversational writing, as if the arias we know and love simply come about by accident, and the characters – each one so endearing, so human, so easily identifiable! I am also exceedingly fond of Franco Zeffirelli's huge 1981 production of La Bohème, which opened at the Metropolitan Opera for another very welcome series of performances on Tuesday, September 23.

Myrtò Papatanasiu as Musetta © Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera
Myrtò Papatanasiu as Musetta
© Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera
Tuesday's performance included a radiant Met debut from Myrtò Papatanasiu as Musetta. She was full of spunk, sang beautifully, and looked wonderful in that red velvet dress we all know and love. Balance issues with the orchestra initially led me to wonder whether her voice was too light for this role in this house – something I wondered about other singers, as well – but as the evening continued, the balance issues seemed to work themselves out and Ms. Papatanasiu shone as the feisty but sensitive Musetta. Her soprano counterpart, Ekaterina Scherbachenko, was a lovely and frail Mimì. Again, the balance issues made me wonder about casting her in this role in this house, but the balance issues seemed to clear up in later acts. She seemed to warm up vocally as she sang, and was at her best in Acts III and IV. Her singing and acting conveyed Mimi's frailty without sacrificing beauty of tone or line.  

Bryan Hymel has made a great name for himself in recent years at the Met and other high-level opera houses. A passionate Rodolfo, he gained in vocal beauty and ease as the evening wore on. Acts III and IV were his best vocally, and his agonized cry of "Mimì! Mimì!" at the end of Act IV was devastating in both vocal beauty and heart-wrenching pain.  

Ekaterina Scherbachenko as Mimì and Bryan Hymel as Rodolfo © Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera
Ekaterina Scherbachenko as Mimì and Bryan Hymel as Rodolfo
© Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera
Marcello was Quinn Kelsey, whom I'd last seen as Rigoletto at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto in 2011. I raved about him at the time and I continue to rave about him. However, I never envisioned him as Marcello. This is a Rigoletto, a Scarpia, an Iago. His voice is huge and glorious and he was the only singer who was never overpowered by the orchestra. He always blended beautifully with the other singers, however, which speaks very highly of his vocal skill and refinement. I was sorry poor Marcello was deprived of an aria, but his Act IV duet with Rodolfo was so sweetly sung, so sensitive, I didn't feel cheated. 

Schaunard was the charming Alexey Lavrov, whose singing was beautiful, although his low voice was often lost under the orchestra. Colline was sung very well by David Soar, whose aria "Vecchia zimarra senti" brought tears to the eyes.   

Scene from <i>La Bohème</i> © Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera
Scene from La Bohème
© Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera
Aside from the occasional balance issues, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under conductor Riccardo Frizza deserve high praise for beautiful playing and sensitive phrasing. The Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus also deserve the highest praise for their consistently excellent work. 

Tuesday's performance was dedicated to the memory of Licia Albanese, who recently left us at the age of 105. She sang Mimì 64 times at the Met between 1940 and 1966. Brava diva!

****1