Jonas Kaufmann crashes Anna Netrebko’s Bohemian party in Salzburg

I went to a
Very Special Performance of La Bohème
at the Salzburg Festival and I wrote about it for Bachtrack:

When Salzburg Festival intendant Alexander Pereira stepped onto the stage of the Großes Festspielhaus last night to announce that one of the cast members of La bohème was sick and unable to sing, he faced a chorus of hisses from the audience… Piotr Beczala had decided a mere ten minutes earlier that his vocal cords would not be up to singing Rodolfo that night. We would have to wait forty minutes for a replacement. Further hisses. Fortunately Pereira had an ace up his sleeve: the replacement would be another star, Jonas Kaufmann.

You can read the rest here. This review
has everything: Anna Netrebko. Special surprise Rodolfo Jonas Kaufmann. Me
saying nice things about the Wiener Philharmoniker. You’re not going to believe

A few more thoughts and photos below.

If you go to
as many performances as I do eventually you’ll see something crazy like this. As
I said in July when I wrote about a very different Bohème, this opera has never been one of my particular favorites.
That performance didn’t change my mind. But this one may have. The set design isn’t
great and doesn’t do much for the drama, but the Personenregie is remarkably nuanced. The characters were less idealized than usual, but for me that made them much more sympathetic, because they seemed real. As for the big cast change,
the singer/actor split is never a good thing but this staging is never static
and there would have been no way in hell to work anyone new into it on short
notice without severe damage. And I’m glad that they didn’t do that.

The scene at
this performance was incredibly glitzy. It’s a Salzburg irony: the festival
glories in the red carpets and paparazzi, yet many of the productions that draw
this crowd (before we even consider the smaller or more niche events) are far from
a Zeffirellian celebration of opulence for its own sake. (Think of the Decker Traviata. Or Frau ohne Schatten.) This was a case in point: the audience looked
far more glamorous than anyone onstage, except maybe Musetta.* (Including, however, Kaufmann, who really did
look like they had pulled him off the street, though not the same street these
Bohemians were occupying.)

And this
ridiculously last-minute slapped together substitution added a further human
touch and charm to something almost too fancy to bear.  There was widespread hissing when Pereira
announced the delay, because these are people who don’t like to wait, and then not
long after we’re all happily watching Jonas Kaufmann emerge stage left with his
shirt untucked, look slightly confused, disappear again, and return dragging a
very large chair. Getting a big-name replacement is a Salzburg sort of luxury, and the
singing was certainly of that class, but I loved how the trappings were pure
(Though if
Beczala was feeling ill all day, as Pereira said, shouldn’t they have started
scouting for a replacement Rodolfo a little earlier? Or at least given Kaufmann
a chance to be warned that with Gatti “Che gelida manina” was going to be a special preview of the Parsifal they’re doing together at the Met next year? Seriously, doing
this without rehearsal must have required nerves of steel in the first place
but when one of the weirdest conductors in the business is involved it’s even
worse. On an absolute scale there were coordination issues but under the circumstances I’m going to say it was damn good.)
This was far
from the Bohème that I expected but
it was certainly a Bohème to
remember. That’s all for me in Europe this summer, but this was an excellent finale.
*Except for
me. It had been raining buckets and while it everyone else had seemingly arrived
by helicopter, their outfits perfectly intact (not really, but as press
I got a nice seat), I had walked from the Neustadt and despite having an
umbrella resembled a drowned rat.

Curtain call:

Spot the non-Bohemian

Production photos, copyright Silvia Lelli

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  1. Here's an article from the Salzburger Nachrichten with more detail:

    Evidently Beczala had hoped to sing after one of those announcements that he was under the weather, but then couldn't sing at all. JK was en famille at their lake house in Austria, hence lack of evening dress. More likely they wanted him to look like the Bohemians.

    Hasn't JK worked with Gatti before? Not that that takes anything away from the nerves of steel.

  2. Thanks for the vivid review; I'm glad to hear it was such a good evening. The production looks like a lot of fun. I grew fond of the Bohemians as a "lovable but flawed" bunch and am then disappointed when it's billed/given as sugary romance. Sigh. I'd love to see/hear Netrebko bring her spice and backbone to more of the Puccini heroines, as it seems as though that's the direction her voice is going.

  3. Did I miss the ** footnote for Bauerntheater? And I think I left out saying, fabulous review. And your initial tweet was a masterpiece of pacing in 140 characters!

  4. *with Gatti “Che gelida manina” was going to be a special preview of the Parsifal* – priceless!
    Was it transposed, or did he sing the C?
    Difficult to tell, perhaps.

  5. Add a third tenor into the mix – Beczala has had to pull out of the next performance and Marcello Giordani is his replacement. Not quite Kaufmann standard alas and one hopes he's a quick learner as this obviously isn't a 'standard' Boheme.

    Great review of the performance and what a treat as I'd be very surprised if Kaufmann will be doing many more (if any) performances of Rodolfo on stage.

  6. Lake house. Why don't I have a lake house in the Alps? Sigh.

    He utterly failed to blend in with the Eurotrash-y Bohemians, but this was far more charming than a tux would have been.

    The ** was an "editing error" (=typo) so I took it out.

    I can't say if the "Che gelida manina" C was a C or a B, which is why I didn't specifically mention it, but it was a great high note.

    Giordani? Oy. Way too old school to fit in with this production and cast, I suspect, especially at short notice.

  7. also: I've seen Gatti and Kaufmann together before, in Fidelio in Munich. (It was on the leisurely side.) But knowing that the conducting will be slow and peculiar doesn't necessarily tell you how or when it will be slow and peculiar in this particular opera…