Monday Jaunary 19th, 2015 - When my friend Lisette was appearing in WERTHER at The Met in 2014, she spoke well of the tenor Jean-François Borras (above) who was covering the title-role and who ended up singing one performance. Now he is back for three performances as Rodolfo in LA BOHEME and I decided to try it, especially after some soprano-shuffling brought Marina Rebeka into the line-up as Musetta.
Overall it was a good BOHEME, though somewhat compromised by the conducting of Riccardo Frizza who had fine ideas about tempo and some nice detailing but tended to give too much volume at the climaxes: this might have worked had the principals been Tebaldi and Tucker, but not for the current pair of lovers. Mr. Borras wisely tried to resist pushing his voice; Kristine Opolais, the Mimi, was having other problems so riding the orchestra was the least of her worries. It was Ms. Rebeka who ended up giving the evening's most stimulating performance, along wth baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, an outstanding Marcello.
Following her well-received Met RONDINEs, Ms. Opolais became something of the darling of The Met, especially when - last season - she sang back-to-back performances of Butterfly and Mimi. I heard one of the Butterflies which was marred by some sharpness of pitch. A glance at her bio reveals that she has already sung roles like Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth, Jenufa, even Aida, all of which seem to me ill-suited to what is essentially a lyric voice. Tonight much of her singing was tremulous and pallid, and the tendency to go sharp spoiled several potentially attractive passages. One hears that The Met plans new productions of MANON LESCAUT, RUSALKA, and TOSCA for her (there are even whispers of a new THAIS); unless she can somehow repair her over-spent voice, I can't see how she'll get thru these demanding roles in the Big House. Anyway, she seems now to have been usurped as the talk-of-the-town soprano by Sonya Yoncheva...one wonders what new productions she has been promised. Meanwhile it's sad to hear Ms. Opolais - who might be (have been?) a lovely Pamina, Liu, and Micaela - having pushed herself into inappropriate repertory at the cost of vocal stability.
Mr. Borras gave such an appealing performance that the conductor's lack of consideration was particularly unfortunate. The tenor's warm timbre falls most pleasingly on the ear, and he had so many felicitious phrases to give us, and some lovely word-colourings. After the orchestra encroached on the climax of "Che gelida manina" - which the tenor managed nonetheless - I enjoyed the way he handled Rodolfo's little melodic gems at Cafe Momus, and his persuasive vocalism in Act III was a balm to the ear, especially the lingering bitter-sweetness of his hushed "...stagione dei fiori..."
Ms. Rebeka (above) was the most marvelous Musetta I have encountered since Carol Neblett's sensational debut at New York City Opera in 1969. Her voice gleaming and generous, Ms. Rebeka seized the stage in no uncertain terms, really making something out of the super-familiar Waltz which she climaxed with a smile-inducing diminuendo on the top-B. She went on to thrill the ear in the ensuing ensemble, and she was excellent in Act III.
Mr. Kwiecien gave a first-rate performance as Marcello. In this music, he can spend his voice generously without having to be concerned with sustaining a full title-character evening, something he's never had quite the vocal and theatrical presence for, despite his undoubted appeal. Tonight, it was ample-toned, warm singing from note one, and an extroverted, somewhat 'mad-artist' view of the character handsomely presented. Would that he'd had a Mimi to match him in the Act III duet. But he and Borras were both superb in their scene, in which they almost came to fisticuffs before Rodolfo finally admitted the truth about Mimi's illness and his hopeless state of poverty. Kwiecien then melted into the caring 'best friend' that makes Marcello a standout portrait in these scènes de la vie de bohème.
Alessio Arduini (Schaunard) and David Soar (Colline) gave attractive vocal performances despite the conductor's trampling on some of their lines; they were charming during a mini-food-fight at Cafe Momus.
Some of the staging at the Barrière d'Enfer didn't enhance the narrative: Mimi reveals her eavesdropping presence not by an attack of coughing - such a moving device - but by stumbling down the staircase and collapsing melodramatcally at the door to the inn. Later, too many by-standers surround Marcello and Musetta as they argue, and the ever-so-moving reconciliation of Mimi and Rodolfo is marred by Musetta grabbing a passser-by and kissing him lavishly: this gets a wave of unwanted laughter during one of the opera's most poignant moments.
The first intermission was debilitating; these extended breaks always drain the life out of the evening, and the better the performance the more annoying they are. And seat-poaching is so unattractive, especially when it causes a disruption if there's an unexpected seating break - as tonight between the garrett and Momus.
But BOHEME still casts its spell, as it has for me ever since I first heard it on a Texaco broadcast 53 years ago to the day, with Lucine Amara and Barry Morell as the lovers. The Beecham recording remains my touchstone document of this heart-rending score. Tonight's audience, quite substantial by current standards, embraced the classic Met production warmly.
Metropolitan Opera House
January 19th, 2015
Benoit..................John Del Carlo
Alcindoro...............John Del Carlo
Parpignol...............Daniel Clark Smith