It’s ladies night for the new cast in the Met’s venerable “La Boheme”
When the umpteenth run of the Franco Zefirelli production of Puccini’s La Bohème opened at the Metropolitan Opera in January, powerful performances from the male principals took center stage, even with commendable work from Musetta and Mimì. On Wednesday it was ladies’ night, as the Met’s second cast featured memorable house debuts from the two leading women.
Romanian soprano Anita Hartig has made her 2013-14 season something of a Mimì tour, singing the role at the Paris Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. At the Met on Wednesday, she brought the sort of glowing, mellifluous sound that makes Puccini’s writing light up. A tight, even vibrato and warm tone, paired with sculpted phrases made Hartig’s performance the highlight of the evening, and one of the standout debuts of the season. A few of her high notes took a split second to register, as she played coy with them, singing more gently than her voice wanted to allow.
Yet otherwise her performance was captivating from beginning to end, not least in a “Mi chiamano Mimì” that was both intimate and soaring, sung with both innocence and passion. Hartig was a strong dramatic force, conveying a sense of the vibrant, joyful spirit fighting against the oppressive fatigue of her illness.
Jennifer Rowley, this cast’s second debutante, showed off a rich, dark, but nimble voice in her performance of Musetta’s Waltz. She threw herself into the scene, playing freely with time and phrasing, and reveling in her naughtiness. The soprano rewarded herself with a fist pump at her Act II curtain call.
Vittorio Grigolo never quite seemed comfortable as Rodolfo. He was believable as a guy who blows his chance with the cute girl downstairs by coming on too strong the first time he meets her—but that’s not how this opera goes. He never put on the brakes with Mimì, throwing himself around both vocally and physically. The desperate panic of his final spoken lines and his cries of “Mimì!” as his love lay dying lost their force as a result, sitting at the same emotional level as the rest of his overheated performance.
Vocally, he filled the house with ease, as ever, but his sound had a hard edge to it, at least initially. “Che gelida manina” was on full blast, lacking any tenderness, and when he went for the high C it came out breathy. Grigolo did warm up later on, achieving a fuller sound by the third act, but he was repeatedly out of synch with conductor Stefano Ranzani.
Apart from those fitful tug-of-war matches, Ranzani kept the ensemble tight, while still bringing out the rich musical characterizations of Puccini’s score. Rich, creamy textures were coming out of the pit all night, and Ranzani provided excellent support for Hartig in her delicate death scene, cooking up a haze of strings that sat just above a whisper.
Massimo Cavalletti had a gruff quality about him as Marcello, but with a weight and robust tone that suited the noble—if emotionally touchy—painter. He had a strong connection with Rowley’s Musetta, fuming with jealousy as she pranced around the tavern in Act II, but succumbing gladly to his passion in the end. As Schaunard, Patrick Carfizzi sang with an earthy, textured, if slightly small voice, and took the lead in the group scenes, bringing the joy of the comedic hijinx to life.
In his company debut, Nicolas Testé brought dark hues with a hint of buffo bounce to the role of Colline, singing a “Vecchia zimarra” that was straightforward, but tender nonetheless. Philip Cokorinos had a rough sound but did a fine comedic turn as both the lecherous landlord Benoit and the bumbling aristocrat Alcindoro.
La Bohème runs April 18. Susanna Phillips will sing two performances as Musetta, April 2 and 5, and Barbara Frittoli will take over the role of Mimì beginning April 10. metoperafamily.org