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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Opera Review: Gateway to Greatness

Young talent adds life to the Met's mega-Bohéme.
Rush hour in Paris: Act II of La bohéme features over 200 people onstage.
Photo by Ken Howard © The Metropolitan Opera.
For three decades, the Metropolitan Opera's La bohéme has thrilled tourists and opera newbies with Franco Zeffirelli's over-the-top version of fin de siècle Paris. And it's provided excitement to hard-core opera lovers as well, with Anna Netrebko and Angela Gheorghiu among the divas dying onstage in the key role of Mimì.

Monday night's performance had all of the spectacle and flash that audiences expect from this staging, which packs 200 people onstage to depict the French Quarter at Christmas in Act II. It also had lesser known singers as Rodolfo and Mimì. But that can be fun too, as the opportunity comes to discover a new singer in one of these evergreen roles. 

Mimì was Russian soprano Hibla Gerzmava, who made her house debut as Antonia in last year's revival of Les contes d'Hoffmann. She sang the part with full, warm tone, stumbling on a very fast "Sventatta, sventatta" but sounding better in "Mi chiamino Mimì". The two singers voices blended and rose, mixing the aural cocktail that has kept this opera at the top of the repertory for over a century. Her final duet with Rodolfo (tenor Dmitri Pittas) was very moving. 

Mr. Pittas is a New York native who is making a name for himself at the Met. Armed with a bright instrument with a little metal in it, struggled with his intonation in the first scene. He found his footing when he hit the familiar tenor arias that anchor the music of this opera. His performance improved as Rodolfo began to decline, hitting hard emotional truths as the false snow fell in the third act. 

Of course, you can't have Bohéme without Bohemians, and Mr. Pittas was supported by a fine trio. Baritone Alexey Markov was an exceptional Marcello, spitting jealous venom at Musetta but providing able support to his friends in time of need. Susanna Philips was a high-lying Musetta, injecting energy into the crowded second act with her entrance, and real sympathy in the finale.

Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi was an energetic, spring-heeld Schaunard, bouncing around the stage. Matthew Rose was an exceptional Colline, making the most of "Vecchio zimarra," the philosopher's touching farewell to his beloved old overcoat. This is another role that leads to great things in the future of a young singer--today's Colline can become tomorrow's Mephistopheles.

The production did boast one sturdy veteran. Paul Plishka took his usual twin roles of Benoit and Alcindoro, and made a fine comic foil to the younger singers. Louis Langrée conducted an unmannered performance of the score, which featured some very fine playing from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra woodwinds.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats