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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.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Opera Review: Flowers in the Attic

Singing defeats spectacle in the Met's latest La bohème.
Angel Blue and Dmytro Popov share a tender moment in Act III of   La bohème.
Photo by Marty Sohl Copyright 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera’s Franco Zeffirelli production of La bohème is the company's biggest export. Seen in films and commercials, this series of ginormous Parisian picture postcards can swallow up singers. With 250 people onstage at one point in Act II and a huge simulated blizzard in Act III, this show risks rendering the love story of Rodolfo and Mimì redundant in the face of its spectacle. However, thanks to a stellar cast of young singers and a fresh face on the podium, this current revival is quite possibly the Met’s best Bohème in many years.

The cast is led by soprano Angel Blue, a major discovery from Los Angeles, California. At first entry on Monday night, this seemed like an ordinary, light soprano voice with a sweet and pleasing tone. Then, in "Mi chiamino Mimì," the voice unpacked itself, revealing a full and flexible instrument with a mellifluous middle register and a top range that reached high notes easily. She made the big moments  sound natural, never piercing or shrill. This was four acts of solid performance, capturing the dark fate of the character and bringing tragic weight to this simple, sad love story.

She was well matched by Dmytro Popov, a Ukrainian export making his second outing on the big stage as Rodolfo. He has a stiletto-like tenor, slim and shapely which can, like Ms. Blue expand into full voice at crucial moments in the show. He too was masterly in presenting the poet’s emotional roller coaster, taking the listener on a thrilling ride through isolation, love, jealousy and finally despair in the heart-rending final scene.

His partner in bromance, the painter Marcello was sung by the big, genial baritone Lucas Meachem. Mr. Meachem brought a fatherly quality to this hot-headed role, serving as a vocal and emotional anchor for Mr. Popov’s performance. The two singers were at their finest in the often overlooked Act IV duet “O Mimì tu più non torni”, a brief moment when their voices blended in a perfect harmonic interval. It's hard to believe that Monday night was only their third performance together.

Mr. Meachem was well paired with Brigitta Kele as the coquettish Musetta, herself a Puccinian caricature of a demanding opera singer. The moment when the enormous onstage crowd freezes in place to listen to "Musetta’s Waltz" is nothing short of enchanting, but her performance upstaged this famous stage effect. She was most affecting in her final, desperate prayer on Mimì’s behalf, recognizing her own flaws in the face of the heroine’s death.

Colline the philosopher was the British bass David Soar. His pleasing, midsized instrument approached “Vecchia zimarra” with real emotion in each syllable and a lieder singer’s intelligence. Duncan Rock made a strong house debut as Schaunard, a role that doesn't get its own solo but is usually a gateway to bigger and better things. It was also a pleasure to see veteran character baritone Paul Plishka double in the roles of Benoit and Alcindoro, comic turns that he has certainly owned at the Met for many decades. 

Bringing all these elements together and fusing them into an organic whole was conductor Alexander Soddy. Currently a music director in Mannheim, this British conductor showed a lyric command of the score.He added elements of rubato in the right places and brought force and volume to the fore without ever drowning out the artists. This Bohème was also well served by the Met’s crack squadrons of choristers and supernumeraries. They know their onstage business and made the spectacle of Act II visually pleasing without overwhelming the principal artists downstage. In executing Franco Zeffirelli’sover-baked  artistic vision, one could not ask for anything more.

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