BWW Reviews: New Voices Add Luster to LA BOHEME at the Met

I thought someone spiked the water cooler backstage at the Met during the first half of LA BOHEME on March 19.

Tenor Vittorio Grigolo's Rodolfo jumped around in the opening scene like he had too much caffeine or needed medication for hyperactivity (think Ritalin). Charming, yes, boyish, definitely, but when he professed his love for Mimi after half an hour's acquaintance, one wondered whether he didn't need something to calm him down. And he wasn't alone.

Debutante soprano Jennifer Rowley exhibited some of the same symptoms on her arrival in the Café Momus scene. She was pretty much over the top as she sang "Quando me'n vo'," otherwise known as "Musetta's Waltz," though she calmed down in the latter part of the opera. At least for Rowley, one could pass it off as opening-performance nerves, but she otherwise had a great night. She showed off a big voice that easily soared over the 125 extras that filled the Paris street scene opening Act II. Later, in Acts III and IV, she was more modulated and composed--more than one could say about Grigolo.

A real find

But it would take much more than a self-involved performance or some over-enthusiasm to wreck this opera. Was Puccini aware that he was writing the trifecta of opera arias when he was at work, with "Che gelida manina,""Mi chiamano Mimi" and "O soave fanciulla" following in close order? Even after hearing many, many performances of LA BOHEME, one can't help but be amazed at the bounty of melody that springs forth from the opera.

One of the singers who did justice to this score was the evening's real find, soprano Anita Hartig, making her first appearance at the Met. The Romanian soprano brought a well-traveled Mimi--she has performed it here, there and everywhere, from La Scala to La Monnaie-Brussels to Covent Garden--that was well-thought-out and moving. Her warm, soaring voice easily explained Rodolfo's rapture.

Rich voice, hearty demeanor

Italian baritone Massimo Cavalletti's robust Marcello had no trouble holding his own against Rowley's fiery Musetta, even if he fell into every one of the traps she set for him. This pair was a match made in heaven--or hell, depending on your outlook. Also making his house debut was French baritone Nicolas Teste; he brought a rich voice and hearty demeanor to the role of Colline, with the ode to his overcoat, "Vecchia zimarra," striking a tender note. Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi, rounding out the quartet of Bohemians, had a lively and sure presence.

The evening was in pretty good hands on the podium, with conductor Stefano Ranzani leading a spirited performance by the Met's orchestra. Yes, some of the ensembles were a bit ragged (hardly surprising considering that there were three major debuts with no stage rehearsal), but there was nothing to tip over the performance.

Time for a change?

The Met's well-worn Franco Zeffirelli production, with costumes by Peter J. Hall and lighting by Gil Wechsler, still brings cheers from the audience, even though the principals sometimes get lost in the over-populated streets of Paris. I wonder whether it's time for the Met to take a fresh look. Heresy? After more than 30 years, yes, maybe it's time. How about a zombie or vampire take on it: NIGHT OF THE LIVING BOHEME? TRUE BOHEME? I don't think even regietheatre could bring Puccini's great opera down. (But let's not try...)

Pictured: Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Anita Hartig in her Met debut as Mimì. Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow

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