This could get ugly — really ugly. I’m about to “review a review” of San Diego Opera’s La Boheme. The production closed on Sunday so now is a safe time to do this. Why don’t I just review the show myself? I’m in the show and that doesn’t work.
Interestingly, I ran into one of the Boheme cast at the gym. As we were chatting, this individual mentioned that the idea of a website that reviews and rates reviewers is an idea that has been kicked around the singer community for a while. Intriguing.
There are a few ground rules here. I was given permission to write this piece so long as I didn’t name names. I’m not going to be taking exception with specific opinions concerning the performance itself but there are a few things out there that are begging to be revisited.
Of course, things are different when there is no deadline.
One last caveat. There is a certain element of straw man argumentation at play here on my part and we need to keep that in mind.
One review claimed that traditionally things "bog down" in the third act. The review then went on to praise the third act in this production, claiming that the singing disappeared and only the drama remained.
Let's start with the obvious. Traditionally, the third act of La Boheme is considered the best capsule of music Puccini wrote. It could be a standalone piece of music. There is no "bog."
The dramatic effect is Puccini's genius. The characters of Rodolpho and Mimi reference their first-act arias brilliantly.
In the first act Rodolpho tells Mimi and the audience about his hopes and dreams. In the third act he says "Addio sogni d'amor" — goodbye my dreams of love.
Mimi then says that they will wait until spring before they break up. This is hearkening back to her first-act aria which warms the hearts and ears of everyone as she sings about her devotion to springtime.
The duet with Mimi and Marcello is absolutely glorious. It lets us see Marcello as a real human being when he drops the sympathetic tone he uses with Mimi and unloads on Musetta. It makes us wonder why he can't use the same tone with Musetta.
The answer? Because he can't.
The juxtaposition of the two sets of lovers is elegantly scored in the music as their arcs cross and set up the fourth act.
Whether or not the singing "disappeared" is a different bird and I won’t touch that one.
I’ve no issue with anyone’s opinion about a performance but when the opinion appears to be misrepresenting the music itself, in this case the third act of Boheme, then I think a little discussion is warranted.