Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, NY, September 28, 2016—It’s always good to re-visit the Met’s production of La bohème, particularly when new singers have been called in to navigate the vast stage with Franco Zeffirelli’s stunning and gargantuan sets. Critics balk at the scale of the production, some claiming that the singers get lost in the shuffle, particularly in Act 2, which has almost 250 people onstage. But audiences love it, and true opera lovers always wonder how well the younger singers’ voices will work on stage. Well, the initial production this season at the Met offered some simply brilliant performances.
The much-touted Ailyn Perez, previously heard at the Met as Musetta and Micaela in Carmen, has graduated to Mimi, and it isn’t too far wide of the mark to say that she is the loveliest Mimi since Mirella Freni. A pretty woman who moves naturally and is comfortable on stage, Perez has a lyric soprano that blooms as it rises, and she can spin a beautiful legato phrase with an admirable pianissimo. She sings one of the most touching third acts of this opera I have heard.
Her Rodolfo, making his Met debut, is the Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov, and he impressed as well. He’s a good actor and pays attention to what the other characters are singing to him, and his voice, which at first was clouded by a slightly throaty, bottled-up tone, soon opened up to a shiny, bright sound with an appealing fluttery vibrato, rock-solid high notes, and the ability to caress a phrase. (His Italian pronunciation could be better). “Che gelida manina”, transposed down a half-tone, was capped by a wonderful B-natural, but he took the optional high C at the act’s end with Perez, and it was big and blazing. He’s truly worth hearing.
The Marcello of David Bizic is active and charismatic, his baritone a supple, medium-sized instrument, and Susanna Phillips’ Musetta, once past a shrill, overdone second act, is a sincere, fine-sounding Musetta. Baritone Rodion Pogossov uses his lightish sound well. Ryan Speedo Green, moving from tiny roles at the Met to Colline, proves again that he is a singer to watch; towering over the rest of the cast, he plays Colline as the gentle soul that he is. In all, a wonderful line-up of singers.
The fly in the ointment is in the pit: Carlo Rizzi never has been anything but a proficient time-beater, but here he gets in the way. He slows tempos in the arias—Rodolfo’s, Mimi’s, Musetta’s, and Mimi’s in Act 3—almost to a halt. You can see the singers working to slow down the natural line of the music in order to follow him. Elsewhere, the Met orchestra made up for his apparent lack of understanding.