It's unlikely that I will visit New York's Metropolitan Opera House, so I jumped at the chance to experience a live performance at my local arts cinema of Puccini's La Bohème and hear the wonderful voices of the soprano Angela Gheorghiu and the tenor Ramon Vargas in the lead roles of Mimi and Rodolfo. Maybe it was the thrill of knowing that it was a live link-up and I was experiencing unedited real-time performances and, albeit simulated, real human feelings, but I wasn't expecting it to be such an emotional and uplifting experience, more so than other productions I've seen or heard before.
The size of the screen helped, of course, as we watched Gheorghui and Vargas in the flesh, up close and personal. And, boy, did I see Gheorghiu in the flesh: close-ups of heaving bosom and moist eyes you'd never get in a stalls seat down to the details of the dainty pastel flowers embroidered on the bodice and cuffs of her dress in her dying scene. And Vargas, with beads of sweat on his brow under the heat of the lights, the emotions of frustrated love etched on his face, and his poverty evident in his dusty, worn-out clothes, down to the darned holes in his jacket and ragged, threadbare scarf. You could utterly believe in them.
The sets were breathtaking, especially for the Parisian street-and-café scene. Hundreds thronged the stage, including a regiment of soldiers, passersby, shoppers and market-stall holders, even a real horse and carriage for Musetta's flamboyant entrance and a pony and trap with extravagant displays of games for the arrival of the toy vendor, Parpignol, followed by gaggles of children.
We were taken behind the scenes in the intermissions by the American opera singer Renée Fleming. Dressed in a bright fuschia outfit, she schmoozed between acts with set designers and stars as they rushed off stage, and even the conductor, Nicola Luisotti, was collared as he about to go on for the last act. The bustle of back-stage activity only added to the pleasure of the whole opera-house experience. But none of this spoilt the performance. It was exciting to take our seats again after the interval, along with our New York audience, and to settle back into the illusion of being in 1830s Paris and hearing sublime music played.
The only downside was that we couldn't join in with the New York audience to show our appreciation to the Met Opera company and cast by clapping and shouting ourselves hoarse after the famous arias and for the final curtain calls.
Dee La Vardera, Charity worker, Calne, Wiltshire
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