Thursday, February 19, 2009
Opera Review: La Bohème
Dallas Opera is presenting this classic with a solid staging, appropriately executed stage design, and wonderful direction.
The Dallas Opera presents La boheme
There is a reason La Boheme is one of the most beloved operas: the music soars, the simple story is easy to follow, the lyrics are sincere, the characters are all youthful and charming, and it is a genuine heartbreaker. Dallas Opera is presenting this classic with a solid staging, appropriately executed stage design, and wonderful direction.
If you have seen this opera before, should you go? Absolutely. Here is the main reason why: Pietro Rizzo, the conductor. This extremely young artist – by conducting standards - elicited a fresh sound out of this well-known score. I was fascinated by his choices in downplaying the violins, and upping the percussive instruments. While I always knew there was a harp, it frequently was emphasized beyond a level I’ve ever heard before, and the effect was enrapturing. Rizzo brought dynamism to the score, that even though it is over 100 year’s old, sounded fresh and anew. This youthful approach to conducting might have upset some of the purists but it seemed to capture the essence of La Boheme which is about youthful people living on the edge and impetuously. Subtleties were sacrificed in exchange for raw passion and surprising sexuality. Not many conductors can make an orchestra sound sexy, Rizzo did. If I have one quibble with his conducting, it is in the fourth act of the opera. We know from the beginning of the opera that Mimi is doomed to die, and the fourth act is devoted to her death bed scene. This is the only time I wished the violins had been allowed to be let loose as it is traditionally done. While the conducting remained consistent with what had been presented before, this fourth act required a little more nuance from Rizzo. The overall effect of his entire conducting was that of a fresh new voice at the podium and one worth noting.
As for the singers: wow! James Valenti as the lead Rodolfo is definitely a Puccini singer. He knows how to deliver the required “cry” in his voice that all Puccini male leads need to have. He mentioned in the program having studied the way Pavarotti would sing in preparation for this role, and it shows. This doesn’t mean he is copying Pavarotti. Valenti has his own distinct sound and it is magnificent. Like the master, he is able to capture the “soul” in singing. Bravo!
Maria Kanyova plays Mimi. She was an interesting choice and a riskier one at that. It isn’t because she didn’t look or couldn’t act the part, since she is perhaps one of the best opera performers on stage at the moment, but because her voice isn’t the traditional soprano voice we are accustomed to hearing as Mimi. Usually Mimi has an innocent and pure sound to her. Kanyova’s voice is not innocent sounding at all, nor will it ever be, there’s a touch of brass to it, but it is absolutely the perfect voice for this character. Mimi is a woman from the streets, and even though she comes across as “innocent”, the truth is if she has lived on the edge, she wouldn’t sound so “pure.” Kanyova’s voice with its complexity made this character much more three dimensional, and for the first time as I’ve seen it, completely believable.
David Croft as Marcello and Valentine Fracas as Musetta, the other pair whose love affair we follow, couldn’t have done the role any better. Fracas at times chose a more staccato delivery then purists may have liked, but she was so in the moment of her character that it worked for me. Croft has a very sexy baritone, and it is easy to see why it could capture Musetta’s heart, even though she is quick to move from man to man. Weston Hurt as Scaunard excelled in his role and Robert Gleadow as Colline gave the best delivery of this role I’ve ever seen, his bass-baritone voice was sublime.
As expected with the enormous budget that the Dallas Opera has, the technical aspects of this opera soared. Thomas C. Hase created a glorious lighting design that captured magic on the stage. The director Mark Streshinksy along with his assistant John de los Santos kept the opera moving, dynamic, and where appropriate, still. The staging was a visual feast: at any moment the stage could have been photographed with all the performers on it and an exciting photograph would have come out of it.
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