Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, NY, October 2, 2017–Franco Zeffirelli’s 36-year-old staging of La bohème at the Met is getting another workout this season, and the first performance brought three debuts. Primary was conductor Alexander Soddy, a 37-year-old Brit who is music director of Mannheim’s National Theatre, where his polyglot taste has taken him from Il barbiere di Siviglia to Parsifal. He led a Bohème that was lower in razzle-dazzle than in sensitivity and character-building, which helped to make the staging more intimate. The sets remain stunning and gigantic, with almost 300 people on stage for the second-act Café scene, and while ensemble got a bit wayward there, it soon recovered itself. Soddy does not linger and this was an active performance, and the orchestra and chorus sounded grand.
The new Mimi in town is California-born soprano Angel Blue. The statuesque, 34-year-old Blue was a finalist in Operalia, taking first place in Zarzuela and second place in opera; she was Miss Hollywood 2005 and second runner-up for Miss California the same year. She has sung Violetta, Mimi, Musetta, Lulu, and several other roles in Europe. Her voice is warm and lovely, with more strength and focus at the top than bottom. Her acting as Mimi was introverted and shy–making little of her 5’11” stature–and she is innately musical, with a fine ear for nuance and understanding of Puccini’s lines. An exciting addition.
Her Rodolfo was Dmytro Popov, repeating his role from last season, with similar results. He does what he can with a voice that is not inherently Italianate; it has a steely ping at the top. His phrasing is excellent, but he lacks morbidezza, that special softness that, say, Carlo Bergonzi brought to all of his roles. Popov scales the role’s heights well, however, and he proved a good partner to the new Mimi.
Lucas Meachem’s beautiful-voiced Marcello was an asset, as was David Soar’s Colline, his last-act aria having just the desired, sad effect. Scottish debutante Duncan Rock sang Schaunard as if it were a leading role, with a big bright sound that one hopes to hear more of. Somewhat less impressive was the sharp-edged Musetta of Brigitta Kele, who oversang and overacted until the last act. Paul Plishka, now in his 50th year at the Met, still has the voice and style for both Benoit and Alcindoro.
There are performances with this cast (mostly) through early November.