Monday, March 24, 2014

I felt sorry for the horse

On Saturday, March 22, I was delighted to see La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. It should surprise no one to learn that I went primarily to see my favorite diva, Jennifer Rowley, as Musetta. Her actual debut in the production--and the house--was Wednesday, March 19, but I had chosen her 2nd performance, a Saturday, not knowing my schedule at the time I bought the tickets. (Yes, I bought my tickets. Your intrepid reporter does not get comped everywhere!)

Jennifer Rowley
Photo credit: Arielle Doneson
If I've ever seen the Zefirelli production in the house, the memory is completely erased by the many times I've seen it on video and television. In the house it's completely different! It's huge! It took me an act and a half to become accustomed to the scale of the thing, so that when we see the Act I garret again in Act IV, it seemed almost natural for Schaunard and Colline to take the mock sword fight out onto the roofs of neighboring tenements. Most of Act I, however, seemed like a whole lot of scenery on which two tiny people led their tiny lives in questo popoloso deserto che appellano Parigi. Perhaps that was Mr. Zefirelli's point, in a Brueghel/Icarus way? This was really brought home in Act II, when I confess I couldn't even find the principals among all the people and animals onstage at first. (Better lighting might have helped with this.) When the market stalls disappeared and Cafe Momus became the focus, then we saw the principals center stage.

It must have appeared quite chaotic for the poor horse drawing the carriage for Musetta's entrance, for a perfectly charming and dazzling entrance turned into a slightly frightening one when the horse refused to go on further and in fact backed off stage. The amazing Musetta for the evening didn't miss a beat and easily made it back onstage for her first sung entrance, and was of course the focus for the remainder of the act. Resplendent in red velvet, amply sharing her rich, soaring voice, Miss Rowley left no doubt as to her mastery of this and so many other roles requiring beautiful singing from a beautiful woman. Her Act II Musetta was childish and impulsive, like Veruca Salt, reminding us just how young and vulnerable these Bohemians really were. By Act IV, sorrow had made a more mature woman out of Musetta, so that the noble gesture of selling her jewelry to buy medicine for Mimi is no surprise.

Anita Hartig at ROH Covent Garden
photo: Bill Cooper
Anita Hartig, who made her company debut alongside Miss Rowley on Wednesday night, was a fine Mimi. Quite warm and secure in voice and demure in presentation, her Mimi was all one could ask for. Massimo Cavalletti as Marcelo, Patrick Carfizzi as Schaunard, and Nicolas Testé as Colline are all fine singers, and were a pleasure to see and hear. Vittorio Grigolo is not my favorite Rodolfo vocally, but he certainly was ardent.

As always the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and the Met Children's Chorus were excellent. Although the orchestra is always just as excellent, in this case it seemed the conductor, Stefano Ranzani, wasn't always with his singers.

La Boheme continues at the Met through April 18. Miss Rowley alternates with Susanna Phillips as Musetta.

La Boheme Act II
Metropolitan Opera photo from a previous season

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