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Zeffirelli gets well-earned ovation for Met's 'Boheme' production

The Baltimore Sun

THEY CALL me Mimi. I don't know why." These are eight of the most famous words in opera, Act I of La Boheme.

This Puccini classic has been around for quite a while, having debuted in Turin, Italy, in 1896. Its music and tragic tale of starving artists and consumptive ingenues has inspired everything from the Della Reese pop hit, "Don't You Know," to Broadway's now-fabled Rent. Baz Luhrmann also updated Puccini to great effect in 2003. And who can forget Cher in the movie Moonstruck, exiting a performance of this opera, saying, "She died! I mean, I knew she was sick, but ... she died!"

But no La Boheme has been more beloved and honored than the production designed by Franco Zeffirelli for the 1981 Metropolitan Opera season; a staple ever since. (All in all, Zeffirelli's La Boheme has played the Met a record 347 times!) On Saturday night, Franco - a lustrous name in cinema, as well - was honored with the installation of two plaques, one on each side of the great Met stage, celebrating his contributions to opera - he has created 12 brilliant productions, beginning with Falstaff in 1964.

Franco, 85, stepped up to acknowledge his award at the end of La Boheme's Act II, emerging onstage from a mass of people assembled for the unparalleled Cafe Momus/marketplace set. His appearance provoked a near-hysterical reaction from the audience. Most in attendance knew that he was being honored, but the drama was, well, very operatic!

Franco was overwhelmed. He said, "I will spare you an emotional director!" He did speak, briefly, praising all in the current production, and then ended with, "I am speechless!" But as he turned to leave the stage, he stopped, and faced the audience again. "I want to pay tribute to the technical expertise of the Met, what they do."

We have to pay tribute as well! In a 48-hour period, the Met put on three huge productions - Wagner's Tristan and Isolde on Friday, a Saturday matinee of Verdi's Ernani and then Boheme. And, when you go to the Met, you are hearing real singers sing. No mikes. It is theater like it used to be. No tricks, only talent.

No conspiracy

The British coroner leading the inquest into the 1997 death of Princess Diana, her boyfriend Dodi al Fayed and their driver Henri Paul, says he "sees no evidence of a plot."

Lord Justice Scott Baker gave the jurors three options - Diana and company died as a result of an accident, gross negligence of the driver, or because the paparazzi were chasing the car. There was no option in which the royal family of Windsor sought to have Diana and Dodi done away with. Well, I never thought much of that conspiracy theory, but I may be alone out here in reality-land. Certainly the still-grieving father of Dodi, Mohammed al Fayed, is not satisfied.

For all the millions who still believe Oswald was not the only shooter, that the Kennedys or the Mafia (or the FBI) murdered Marilyn, Diana's terrible end in that Paris tunnel is just one more "mystery" to be twisted to suit the doubters.

The princess joins Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots and Miss Monroe as one of history's great tales of beauty, popularity and power gone awry. No matter their respective ends, these were all empowered women who accomplished much of what they wanted to in their lives.

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