Metropolitan Opera 2018-19 Review: La Bohème
Rising Stars Shine on Company’s Second NightBy Logan Martell
Following a mixed premiere of “Samson et Delila,” the second evening of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2018-19 season saw a far more conventional and beloved work being performed, Puccini’s “La Bohème.” This opera is, unsurprisingly, the most performed of the company’s history, and that experience made itself clear throughout the night.
Making her debut with the company was Nicole Car in the role of Mimì. Her entrance in Act one held a captivating presence, almost giving the impression of two people being reunited rather than meeting for the first time. This quality returned with her entrance in Act three; though Car herself was obscured by a snowy veil, the intent she conveyed, along with the return of a previous melody, made clear her identity and purpose. Her first aria “Si, mi chiamano Mimì,” had a soft delivery that, while true to the character and her illness, lacked the impact usually felt with the lines “il primo bacio dell’aprile e mio!” Her ensuing parlando had a down-to-earth humility that was highly charming as she quickly dismissed the deep outpouring from her heart. This softness caused her voice to be drowned out by Grigolo during their first harmony in “O soave fanciulla,” but following this, Car soon hit her stride which lasted for the remainder of the night; this was most powerfully felt in the Act three quartet “Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina!” particularly with their B-flat unison on the line “Mentre a primavera c’e compagno il sol!”
As the poet Rodolfo, Vittorio Grigolo’s dynamic portrayal was well-suited to capturing the full spectrum of the artist’s passion. His first aria “Che gelida manina,” saw Grigolo filling the cavernous auditorium of the Metropolitan with his resplendent high C, and while one of the closing phrases “parlate chi siete?” didn’t carry as well through the air due to his highly-delicate delivery, Grigolo was met with great applause at its conclusion. His interactions with his fellow bohemians carried a natural ease and sense of play that is so often found among a close pack of friends, especially in the opening scenes of Act one where he stands atop a table to feed his writings into the furnace, and when he grabs a chair in an attempt to bludgeon the landlord Benoit. Certain directions, such as the puppy-like grin he flashes to the audience upon learning that Mimì lives alone, seemed to take away from the gentle atmosphere being created, but Grigolo’s youthful energy gave a sincerity to it that would be hard for other performers to imitate.
Center of Attention
Angel Blue’s Musetta was often the center of attention for the night. While one could attribute this to her opulent entrance via carriage onto the already-gorgeous set of Zeffirelli’s production, her more-modest appearances in Acts three and four carried this magnetic quality as well. Resonant and clear, Blue’s soprano was never lost during the charged duets and quartets of Acts two and three, and her rendition of “Quando me’n vo’” was undoubtedly one of the evening’s highlights. While there were plenty of moments which showed off her fiery power, the rising D-major quadruplets she delivered from offstage at the start of the third act beautifully complimented the harp, and the snowy, night atmosphere.
The bohemians of the night were Étienne Dupuis as Marcello, Davide Luciano as Schaunard, and Matthew Rose as Colline. Schaunard’s comedic sensibility presented itself early on as he regaled his friends with his story of poisoning a parrot, and it was not uncommon to see him either leaping into their arms or even onto the neighboring roof to engage in a mock duel. As Marcello, Dupuis made an excellent match for Angel Blue’s Musetta vocally and dramatically during their duets, quartets, and highly passionate exchanges. As Colline, Rose’s highlight of the evening was naturally the aria “Vecchia zimarra, senti,” which he delivered with a rueful irony that captured the passing nature of things in a few succinct moments.
While Zeffirelli’s production of “La Boheme” debuted in 1981, this is my first time seeing it in all of its beauty; even the attic dwelling of the bohemians in Act one had a striking impression despite all of its squalor. Capturing the Parisian locations with such verity, the inside view into the houses and restaurants of the first two acts created an almost magical perspective through which one could watch the drama unfold. As the curtain rose on the second act, the abundance of detail and life that bustled around the Café Momus was enough to draw applause from the audience. I will admit that through this act there were plenty of moments where I found myself getting lost in the scenery, at which point keeping an eye on the main characters became harder when they were not at the very front of the stage. For all of the sheer abundance, the set of Act three had a simplicity that was highly graceful due to the misty snow and the gentle light emanating from the house where Marcello was painting.
Certain directions of this production I found somewhat questionable; most notable was during Mimì and Rodolfo’s first meeting, when she has a lapse of breath from the stairs. At this point, Car went so far as to lay her head down on the table, and even appeared to have blacked out for a few moments, but it seemed like that choice in direction was to allow Rodolfo a brief sliver of time to speak his thoughts without being heard, as well as let him simply observe and bask in the presence of the mysterious woman who has just entered his home. Another moment came in Act four when Musetta announces she has brought Mimì, who was unable to climb the stairs. Despite this, Mimì enters the room in almost as much time as it took for me to glance down and then back up from the subtitle.
While “La Bohème” and Zeffirelli’s famed production are no strangers to the Metropolitan Opera, Tuesday’s performance made it clear that there is still freshness to be found, thanks to the rising talent of the cast, and especially Nicole Car. Audiences won’t want to miss her display of fragile passion in her run as Mimì, before she goes on to perform in roles such as Tatiana in the Bavarian State Opera’s production of “Eugene Onegin,” and Micaëla in the Paris Opera’s production of “Carmen.” These first opening days of the Met’s 2018-19 season rightly show that while nothing is perfect, they remain able to be utterly enchanting.