Ernest Newman in the Post:
Until well into the fourth act, after which it improved, last night’s performance of “La Bohème” was one of almost unbelievable crudity. It rarely rose above third-rate anywhere, either individually or collectively; indeed, there was little that could be called collective about the performance except in the sense that at certain times certain people happened to be on the stage together. They were rarely together in any other sense, either musical or dramatic. The singers were often “out” with each other, and still more often with the orchestra and, in its turn, some of the instruments were out of tune, notably the harp.
After the splendid stage management of the crowds in “Aida” the evening before, it was a shock to find such poor management of the six characters who really constitute “La Bohème.” Perhaps the theory was that while a hundred supers need to be drilled, six principals can be trusted to do the right thing of themselves; or, again, that while a heavy opera must be carefully “produced,” a light opera can be left to produce itself. Both theories are fallacies, and fatal fallacies. Comedy needs more careful rehearsing than tragedy, as Garrrick implied long ago when he said that any fool can act tragedy, but that to do comedy well is the very devil. Again, the fewer people you have on the stage, the more difficult is the problem of ensemble.
It is comparatively easy to drill a stage crowd for all you have to do is to work them into patterns. But, with half a dozen people, all of them principals, the set pattern will not do. They have to convey to the spectator the impression that they are improvising; and it one of the paradoxes of stage production that this air of an individual improvisation of the moment can be got only by long and downright hard teamwork. Of this teamwork that is the very essence of “La Bohème,” I could see hardly a trace. Each of the six characters would do the recognized traditional thing at a given moment, but without either taking fire from the others or striking fire from them.
They were just so many soloists who happened to be thrown together for the evening by the librettist, the composer and the management. Perhaps this is bound to be everywhere, the result of the strange, old-fashioned custom of greeting each singer on his entry and applauding him after each pronounced effort. If the audience regards the opera as a series of star “turns,” it can hardly be wondered at that the singers do so, and that they neglect the finer dramatic by-play of a part in order to concentrate on the familiar phrases, with the familiar top notes that, it is hoped, will draw the familiar applause. You can se them, indeed, preparing for their effect some bars before it is due. Thus Rudolphe, in the last act, really behaved like Rudolphe when he spoke intimately to Marcel with his hand on the latter’s shoulder; but as the moment drew near for a vocal climax, Rudolphe would move away from Marcel, face the audience, and visibly brace himself for the ordeal; he was no longer Rudolphe, he was Miguel Fleta. Like the lady in the poem, he “Nerved his baryn for the dreadful thing and cleared the six-foot syllable at a spring.”
Only singing of the finest order could compensate one for such poverty of spirit on the dramatic side as we had last night. Unfortunately none of the singers, except Mme. Bori, gave us much singing of this kind; and Mme. Bori’s Mimi was histrionically unsatisfying, especially in the first act, where it was far too sophisticated. Mr. Fleta’s high fortissimo notes were resonant enough, but these did not of themselves atone for the lack of any modulation between them and his less strenuous tones, or for the absence of anything that could be dignified by the title of a style. Miss Hunter was a rather shrill Musetta. Mr. Picco was the Schaunard, Mr. Ananian, the Benoit and Alcindoro, Mr. de Luca, the Marcel, and Mr. Rothier, the Colline. Mr. Bamboschek conducted.
In 1961 soprano Phyllis Curtin made her Met decut as Fiordiligi
In 1976 tenor René Kollo bowed as Lohengrin.
Happy 50th birthday baritone Mariusz Kwiecien.
On this day in 1890 Borodin’s Prince Igor premiered in St Petersburg.