Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Si, mi chiamano Parpignol

Regular readers will recall that your intrepid reporter has reviewed several performances presented by Opera Manhattan, and might wonder why he has been silent on their recent production of La Boheme. After all, it was picked up elsewhere in the Blogosphere. Opera Insider did a very complimentary review ("We are grateful to Opera Manhattan not only for entertaining us so well but also for giving performance opportunities to emerging artists."), and Barihunks did a feature about the unusual factor of Colline and Schaunard being in a relationship, since both singers are, in fact, barihunks. (Just look at Robert Maril's eyes! **ZOMG swoon**)

In an updated, current urban Bohemian kind of production (minus the dreadlocks on privileged white kids), to me the gay element worked. I was told it didn't arise out of the idea that intimate quarters lead to sexual contact--it's not an English boys school, as I said to someone--but rather from the fact that everyone else was coupled. My debate partner thought that was porn-director thinking. Chacun à son goût. In fact, the other Colline and Schaunard pair chose not to play their characters as gay.

See? I can't resist that kind of analysis and discussion, and I love to write about it, but I can't do a review. Why, you ask? Because I was in it! I started out in the chorus--very important in Act II, you will recall--and covering Parpignol, but the other Parpignols (Parpignoli?) dropped out and I sang it at every rehearsal. After much debate, consideration of the effects of such a step on the world economy and climate change, consultation with numerous psychics, business leaders, and religious authorities (including Tammy Faye Baker from beyond the grave), the decision was made to allow me to bark out "Ecco i giacattoli di Parpignol!" on a high G backstage for eight shows. The results were not too disastrous. Seattle, I'm sorry about the snow.

So what can I write about? The trip from writer to singer, or maybe from singer to writer to singer? Boring. The fact that the last time I did Boheme chorus/Parpignol was before the young fellow who played the customs guard was born? Interesting, but in noticeable disagreement with any claims I might make that I'm 35 "in opera years".

Did I have my favorites among the singers? Of course I did. Am I going to divulge them publicly? Not on your nelly! For you see, gentle reader (and the rest of you lot), these singers have become people I know and care about, and some have become friends. Some were already friends. (We have gone from "Sie" to "du". Someone should write a chorus in some operetta about that, doncha think?) They were all good singers and colleagues and kind to me as the comprimario. I will say that the musical director, Lloyd Arriola, and the stage director, Elspeth Davis, were both a pleasure to work with. Lloyd, especially, was quite supportive of my contributions to the chorus--what little I was able to actually sing before transforming myself into Parpignol.

The children's chorus was great fun. Although there were alternating groups of kids, Sophie Dornbaum was a trouper and sang all eight shows as the little brat who wants a trumpet and a horse. (The English version I did in 1985 a few years ago still sticks in my head!) The Kinderchor ranged in age from about 10 to teeny-bopper range, and because of the alternating groups of kids and the inconsistency with some of them in showing up, it might have seemed sometimes like Parpignol was battling swooning bobby soxers rather than a pack of greedy children. I should mention the lovely Tessa Payne, the chorus member who, as a mean mommy, nearly decks Parpignol and sends him skulking off to the sidelines.

All in all, I think this was a pretty damn good production of La Boheme. I was able to watch Act IV only once, during the last performance, and I must admit I was in tears. OK, I'll admit I was pretty darn close to tears hearing it from backstage. Something about those final chords and Rodolfo's desperate cries of "Mimi! Mimi!" will always simply tear me up. That's probably a good thing.

Anyone want some used toys? Opera Manhattan can't store them, and they're still in the back seat of my car.