Friday, October 29, 2010

Addio, senza rancor

Last night marked the 1221st performance of La Bohème at the Met, the 398th in Franco Zeffirelli's production.  I had never seen La Bohème, ever.  So I went.  But I left dry-eyed.  And I didn't go in expecting to be disappointed or disdainful; I went in hoping to be childishly delighted.  But the production (in my opinion) often crossed the line from thoughtfully detailed into distractingly fussy.  To be fair to production and performers, the fact that I failed to be drawn into the narrative had much to do with the audience.  I didn't hear the final chords of any of the acts.  I believe there was applause after every. single. aria. and. duet, interrupting the flow of Puccini's music and drama as misplaced periods interrupt a sentence (sorry.)  And applause for the Act II set drowned out "Aranci! Ninnoli! Caldi!"  I feel as though I aged about thirty years towards being an Opera Curmudgeon last night.  I also emerged with a persistent, niggling worry.  I am glad that there are "non-opera-goers" who decide that they want to invest an evening in getting tickets, getting dressed up, and Seeing La Bohème At the Met.  But... what if they decide that opera is quaint?

I've said it before: Lord love the Met orchestra and chorus.  The latter sang with precision and the characterization which is crucial to the groups in Acts II and III.  Roberto Rizzi Brignoli conducted a relatively light and lively reading of the score, with nice impulsion (if some pacing issues.)  It's understandable that this Bohème should be a vehicle and opportunity for relatively young and inexperienced singers.  But the results were uneven.  Paul Plishka (obviously anything but inexperienced) took on Benoit and Alcindoro with panache, and presented two very different old fools.  Shenyang sang a warm  and sympathetic Colline, albeit without the depth and fullness of resonance which I had expected, and I had trouble understanding him. Takesha Meshé Kizart scooped her way through an unsubtle Musetta.  Mimi may be consumptive, but she has a backbone, and I didn't get that from Maija Kovalevska's thin, fairly uniform sound, which I'm tempted to call anemic.  And she was flat.  This was a drift in the first part of the evening, and she just settled below the tone and more or less stayed there in the fourth act.  I felt sorry for her.  Fabio Capitanucci was a stand-out as Marcello: warm and robust of tone, sympathetic of manner, and a sensitive actor.  He's just thirty-five, and this role marks his Met debut; he seems to have a busy schedule in Europe, but hopefully we'll see more of him.

I confess that I have been annoyed by Vittorio Grigolo's publicity (and his air of being rather too pleased with himself), and remained unimpressed by his CD.  But his Rodolfo was engaging: heard live, I liked his tone, although I wasn't ravished.  His Italian, of course, is beautiful, although I would like more legato phrasing.  I think that he may achieve more emotionally affecting and effective singing with less emotionalism in the voice.  He acted an awkward-impulsive Rodolfo, and exercised unexpected and touching restraint in the final scene (effacing himself from the center of attention, and refraining entirely from a histrionic sob at the end, only that heartbroken "Mimi!")  I'd go to hear him as Nemorino, for instance, or either Massenet's or Puccini's Des Grieux, with anticipation rather than apprehension.  But for now, I'm sitting on my couch with a glass of wine and my gold standard Bohème like a confirmed Opera Curmudgeon.


  1. Oh yes! to the excessive applause thing. I can't stand that. I'm not sure if you can entirely blame the audience, though. If the performers really wanted to minimize applause and keep going without a pause they could. But they probably don't want to. (I just saw two Rusalkas that didn't stop after the Song to the Moon despite excellent sopranos! It can be done!)

    (I am also glad I'm not the only person who finds the Marketing of the Grigolo incredibly annoying.)

  2. So comforting to know I'm not alone! No "Song to the Moon" applause is very impressive (yet another motivation to apply for research grants in Germany, haha.)

    I'm hoping to see the excellent cast in Don Pasquale, but I might want a Regie DVD as a palate-cleanser between Zeffirelli and Schenk.


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