Bayerische Staatsoper 2020-21 Review: La Bohème
Jonas Kaufmann & Rachel Willis-Sørensen Lead Beautifully Staged ‘Bohème’By Lois Silverstein
The Bayerische Staatsoper showcased “La Boheme” as part of its Montagsstücke series.
Asher Fisch led the Bayerischen Staatsöper Orchestra and a starry cast that included tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Rodolfo and soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen as Mimì. The outcome was a performance that came to life on screen and renewed the spirit of opera lovers during a time of lockdown and closed opera houses.
From the outset, there was youthful energy within the soloists. In the role of Rodolfo, Jonas Kaufmann brought his signature playfulness on stage. His Rodolfo was youthful and filled with irreverent high-jinx gaiety and fun, making every gesture purposeful and varied. At one moment he was pouring endless glasses of wine and actually eating bread between notes and at another moment he was camouflaging himself on the bed when the concierge Benoit came for the rent. He also danced around with his flatmates.
His vocal performance also showcased a bright timbre with Kaufmann using his signature piannissimi and varying the colors in his dusky tenor. In his duet with Mimì, Kaufmann put great emphasis on the text showcasing a balance between musical phrasing and the words that Rodolfo speaks to his beloved. One could sense the love in Kaufmann’s Rodolfo from his facial expressions, his precise hand gestures, and his bright eyes. Overall it was an exquisite, focused, and tasteful interpretation.
While his burnished sheen mostly came across in his “Che Gellida Mannina” and “O Soave Fanciulla,” the soaring quality remained the province of American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen and the orchestra, which Fisch conducted often at full volume.
Willis-Sørensen’s lustrous voice soared throughout the evening particularly in her “Mi Chiamano, Mimì,” which filled the stage with a sweet and tender legato, suffused with round and swelling tones. During her “Donde lieta usci, sola Mimi,” her voice also rang out with power and gleam. In fact, the richness of her voice transcended other performers’ choices and sometimes seemed a touch more Wagneresque. Still, she remained vocally and theatrically compatible with Kaufmann as they both seemed to understand each other’s musical phrases.
They were also believable lovers as Willis-Sørensen aptly transmitted her heart with each movement from a tilt of her head or her eyes closing. Kaufmann sang with ardor and conviction, never diluting his credibility as a poet and lover and he remained the young Rodolfo, wooing the object of his affection.
Act three, Mimì and Rodolfo’s farewell was touching, if not convincingly sorrowful as it might have been. As this critic was watching, the first question that popped into mind was, did Kaufmann’s Rodolfo really believe she would let him go and that he would let her go? The answer was yes and no. He was definitely sad and showed it as his body partly sunk to reflect it. At the same time, the conviction one would expect from separation was not there. The famous quartet Puccini wrote, “Addio dolce svegliare,” at the end of the act did fortify these ups and downs and the feelings in the characters. One could see the “I hate-you,” “I-love-you,” and “goodbyes” as the cast performed with intensity throughout.
The final act was filled with sentimentality and worked exceptionally well. Kaufman’s Rodolfo was tender and affecting particularly in his final cries “Mimì” although the orchestral volume again, covered much of it, and we were kept from its full vocal power. Willis-Sørensen’s final lines were filled with beauty and here she reduced her volume to showcase the lyric side of it. Colline’s “Vecchia zimarra,” performed by Tariq Nazmi was affecting, and the “cri-de-coeur” at the end hurt, even if it didn’t tear us apart.
Appealing Supporting Cast
Musetta, sung by soprano Mirjam Mesak, was aptly flirtatious and appealing. Her gestures were clear and directed and her movements piquant and smart. She sang the famous waltz, “Quando m’en vo” with nicely detailed musical phrases. Her voice floated with beauty and elegance, if not a heart-creasing sound. The live stream gave audiences the opportunity to experience all her finesse and subtle details without strain and this critic definitely fell in love with her characterization.
Andrei Zhilikovsky (Marcello), Sean Michael Plumb (Schaunard), and Tariq Nazmi (Colline) sang with gusto while playing their roles with free-spiritedness.
In the small but crucial roles of Parpignol and Alcindoro, Andres Agudelo and Karel Martin Ludvik kept the audience’s feet on the ground and from falling into sentimentality.
Asher Fisch kept up a brisk pace with the Bayerischen Orchestra, capitalizing on the lyric beauty of Puccini’s score. He relished in the rich coloration of bells glockenspiel, chimes, harp, and the full complement of winds strings and brass and he kept the musical line aglow.
With flaws and all, this performance brought this critic to tears at the curtain, even “sans” audience. There was no catharsis, unfortunately. However, we couldn’t have been happier to watch these musicians give it their all and allow to us remain gripped by the opera’s magic and the wonder of its makers.