Friday, December 03, 2010

The bohemians

La Boheme -- Metropolitan Opera, 12/1/2010
Stoyanova, Calleja, Dehn, Capitanucci, Tiliakos, Groissböck, Plishka / Rizzi Brignoli

This second of four La Boheme casts this season is what the previous was not: a beautiful and convincing telling of Puccini's ensemble piece. Much credit to two supporting members of the ensemble -- debuting singers Dimitris Tiliakos (Schaunard) and Günther Groissböck (Colline) -- whose characters were clear, distinct, and lively from the moment each stepped on stage. That they don't necessarily better their predecessors vocally (I found Tiliakos appealingly mellifluous, but Groissböck's coat aria wasn't the highlight Shenyang's was), doesn't matter: they make the show work.

Against this more telling backdrop I saw Fabio Capitanucci -- who debuted with the previous cast -- more clearly. Here what was general dissatisfaction last time has revealed itself to be a specific complaint: Capitanucci's Marcello is all good-nature, without even a bit of the darkness that should make his fiery romance with Musetta go. His way is appealing enough, but it's not clear what the two see in each other. One might make a bit of the same complaint against Ellie Dehn's Musetta, but the 2005 Met Council Finalist used her looks, her quick manner, and her now nicely-polished soprano instrument to sell the familiar character well.

The leads are no surprise: Joseph Calleja has, as ever, his magnificent sound, diction, and sense of line, and fits in very well with the boys in their antics. His classicist sense of proportion (despite, unfortunately, taking the high note for Act I's finish) seems to apply to his role, as well, and he doesn't try to take over the entire ensemble show. Nevertheless he does some pretty good agonized acting in Act IV...

Puccini's show is properly Mimi's, and Krassimira Stoyanova does strongly -- even better, in snowy Act III: she gets Mimi in extremis wonderfully & movingly well. The outer acts weren't quite at that level, but very good. Stoyanova sings with real understanding and feeling throughout, but too often here it's overlaid with a set of more conventional emotive and fidgety gestures that tell a less interesting story.

Rizzi Brignoli now has the Met Orchestra and a surprising amount of the new cast on the same page as his conducting, but I still think his constant shifts of time and tempo are doing more harm than good. No, it doesn't get in the way of long concentration in the slow meditations of Acts III and IV, but the more extroverted exchanges need a firmer, more consistent base, and touches like holding off on Mimi's death chord for ages seem just needlessly cutesy.

*     *     *

Despite the successfully tear-jerking performance, what many will remember from Wednesday's show is the extra half-intermission. At first, the pause between Acts I and II dragged long... and then a woman came out to explain that there was some technical issue and they'd be continuing soon. Time dragged on again... and she came out again, with another call for patience. Time dragged on yet again... and she popped out again, the lights came up, and something about "having the intermission now" was announced.

Of course, the Act II/III and Act III/IV transitions are really too elaborate to do without further intermissions, so after less than 10 minutes (probably the amount of time it took to fix whatever needed fixing) the intermission-end-warning chimes (there are two at the Met, usually at 8 and 4 minutes before time) began to sound. As the Grand Tier restaurant had not, apparently, been warned of this, however, a bunch of people had just been brought their intermission meal/dessert. A torrent of chimes and usher requests did not (as you can imagine) manage to get these people into their seats before something like the full 25/30 minutes had passed. (So why did the house bother to try cutting the intermission short? No idea.)

In any case, Act II went on, none of the singers were too thrown from having to warm up some extra times, and the night -- after two subsequent scheduled intermissions -- simply ended rather later than it was supposed to.

UPDATE (2:45PM): I forgot to mention the audience, which is even more full of tourists and opera newbies than the usual Boheme. I must admit I take nearly as much pleasure in the harumphing of the (insufficiently) scandalized Eurosophisticates at Zeffirelli's literalistic masterpiece as I get displeasure from the shocking amount of flash photography at the start of the first two acts.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.