Young singers provide romantic fervor in Met’s beloved “Bohème”

Wed Sep 24, 2014 at 9:50 am
Bryan Hymel and Ekaterina Scherbachenko star in the Metropolitan Opera production of Puccini's "La Bohème."  Photo by Cory Weaver

Bryan Hymel and Ekaterina Scherbachenko star in the Metropolitan Opera production of Puccini’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Cory Weaver

For the second night of its season-that-almost-wasn’t, the Metropolitan Opera rolled out the extravagant Franco Zeffirelli production of La Bohème, a trustworthy, tourist-friendly show that has been in the repertory since 1981. Is there anyone left who hasn’t admired these once-stunning sets, with cutaway Paris loft, balcony and rooftops, softly falling snow, and a crowded Christmas Eve street scene with carts and children, parades and even a horse-drawn carriage?

After playing crisply under the not-too-steady baton of James Levine for the opening night of Le Nozze di Figaro, the Met Opera Orchestra brought glorious lyricism to Puccini’s score under Riccardo Frizzi’s leadership. In the Italian maestro’s gigantic, energetic beat lies a well-controlled stick technique, and he supported the singers in a sweeping, sensuous reading that never flagged.

In his first house appearances as Rodolfo, tenor Bryan Hymel was the biggest draw, and he lived up to expectations with a world-class portrayal of the destitute poet. A bizarre memory slip in the second phrase of “Che gelida manina” threw him off momentarily, but Hymel sang beautifully and at times eloquently. His high-lying voice rang out with a smooth edge that enhanced the easy-going amiability of his characterization and his elegant musical phrasing inspired the other Bohemians to moments of delicacy and subtlety one doesn’t often experience in this work.

Ekaterina Scherbachenko sang Mimi with a generous, open sound and good command of the middle and low registers. She often skirted top notes, and left Hymel to take the high C at the end of “O soave fanciulla,” but there’s a lushness to Scherbachenko’s singing that, combined with her simple and direct delivery, was most affecting. Both she and Frizza turned Act One’s “Mi chiamano Mimì” into a narrative of romantic yearning, with lavish phrasing and careful pacing.

In her company debut, Myrtò Papatanasiu failed to command the stage entirely, even in Musetta’s gaudy crimson gown, and her voice at first betrayed a brittle edge. The sound eventually warmed, but Papatanasiu left the impression that Musetta is not her ideal role.

Quinn Kelsey brought amplitude and ringing tone to the role of Marcello, and wasn’t afraid to tone it down in a portrayal that emphasized Marcello’s strength of character. David Soar’s Colline added just the right touch of seriousness to the Bohemian quartet, and the British bass made the sacrifice of his coat in the aria “Vecchia zimarra” a quiet and intimate moment that showed real artistry. Alexei Lavrov too brought a lieder singer’s sensibility to the role of Schaunard, and the Russian baritone, a graduate of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist program, proved himself a nimble dancer and physical comedian.

La Bohème continues through January 14 with several cast changes, which will  include Hei-Kyung Hong, Kristine Opolais, Angela Gheorghiu, Susanna Phillips, Ramón Vargas, David Bizic, Matthew Rose and others.

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