La bohème, the timeless masterpiece by Giacomo Puccini, which is running in the Israeli Opera of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, is arguably one of the best productions presented by the local opera theater for a couple of years. The opera, one of the most popular in the world repertoire, tells in the most realistic and romantic manner a simple and tragic story of a young love between a poet Rodolfo and a seamstress Mimi, who dies of tuberculosis – the curse of the poor at the time.

The production is, in many ways, nothing less than perfect. Daniel Oren, an Israeli conductor with a sound international career, knows very well that the audience comes to opera houses for an emotional experience. He delivers the goods in the most devoted manner, igniting both the musicians in the pit and the soloists on stage and squeezing a cathartic tear of compassion from the grateful public. In the score, Oren does not leave a single stone unturned, bringing out the storytelling Puccini’s music, which knows about the characters more than they themselves know, in all its sweeping beauty and richness. Due to his international connections the conductor brings to Israel some of the best soloists – mostly Italian – available, and the results are productions like this one.

Six friends are in the center of the story – Marcello, the painter (Simone Piazzola); a poet, Rodolfo (Giorgio Berrugi); a philosopher, Colline (Carlo Striuli); a musician, Schaunard (Ionut Pascu); a singer, Musetta (Nadine Sierra) and Mimi, the seamstress (Maria Agresta), who joins the Parisian Bohemians. They are all vocally very good and a touch of young innocence brings emotional authenticity to the entire performance, but it’s Maria Agresta, who steals the show with her rich, warm and moving soprano.

As local opera aficionados remember, some 15 years ago, Franco Zeffirelli brought his larger than life color to La bohème, with 500 artists, a horse and a donkey on stage in the first act.

The directorial approach of Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera is the opposite: together with set (Carlo Sala), costume (Fernand Ruiz) and light (Franco Marry) designers he creates a grim, at times visually depressive world, where the characters dwell in utmost poverty.

Yet, it is against this background of hushed colors that their love shines even brighter.

This review relates to opening night, but all soloists in other casts are good – they are familiar to the local audience and yes – Oren’s standards are always high. Highly recommended

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