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Krassimira Stoyanova
11 Dec 2010

La Bohème, New York

Perhaps the most unexpected occurrence of the evening was the malfunction of the Act I-Act II set change.

Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème

Mimi: Krassimira Stoyanova; Musetta: Ellie Dehn; Rodolfo: Joseph Calleja; Marcello: Fabio Capitanucci; Colline: Günther Groissböck; Schaunard: Dimitris Tiliakos. Metropolitan Opera. Conducted by Roberto Rizzi Brignoli. Performance of December 1.

Above: Krassimira Stoyanova


The Met threw in another intermission, but did not distribute free Champagne. Perhaps the Zeffirelli production is becoming arthritic, or did the donkey or the horse (it is Zeffirelli; you get both in his Act II) throw the sort of tantrum singers never risk nowadays? Alcindoro’s re-entrance with the shoes (Paul Plishka, as inevitably as the snow in Act III) has somehow got lost in the mayhem, and you are free to regret this if you like. I also missed Marcello’s “Crossing of the Red Sea” painting, which is supposed to be hanging outside the snowy inn in Act III.

For me, though, what made the whole thing worth seeing was Krassimira Stoyanova’s first Mimi in New York, especially the moment when, wandering around the boys’ studio, plainly never having seen such a place (Rodolfo is on the balcony telling his pals downstairs to get lost), takes up Marcello’s paintbrush, waving it in the air, unable to imagine what on earth it is. One is grateful for any spontaneity in this ancient staging.

Stoyanova is perhaps the world’s foremost lyric-spinto today, but the Met hardly takes her seriously as she is not a glamour girl. Mimi is her only assignment there this season, though New Yorkers can catch her internationally admired Desdemona when the Chicago Symphony performs Otello here in April. Her acting in Bohème’s impossibly cluttered attic is impeccable, though she has trouble getting around all the furniture (“Why don’t they burn a few of those picture frames instead of Rodolfo’s manuscript?” grumbles a friend) and is happier when there is merely snow to dodge in Act III. Her voice is of exceptional sweetness, kept deceptively small (it is not a small voice) when portraying the consumptive seamstress. On the first night of the run, there were a few mildly disconcerting moments of awkward pitch; I’d rather have heard her later in the run. The live broadcast from Vienna last fall was ideal, unearthly, recalling the young Freni.

Her Rodolfo was Joseph Calleja, a burly, bearded fellow with an easy smile and a smiling voice—marred for some hearers, perhaps, by an old-fashioned vibrato that reminded me of Alessandro Bonci. Fabio Capitanucci, who is actually stout, sang a perfect Marcello with an ingratiatingly suave baritone one is eager to hear again. Debutantes filled out the Bohemian quartet: Günther Groissböck (Colline) and Dimitris Tiliakos (Schaunard) revealed fine, well-produced, Met-sized voices if not yet much individuality of character. Ellie Dehn, who was so lovely in the Met’s Satyagraha, sang Musetta’s music well but acted like a village schoolmarm drafted at the last minute and against all inclination to play the vamp. She’s no vamp, and displayed no sexual magnetism at all. We’re not interested in your petticoats, dear—where’s that ankle?

Roberto Rizzi Brignoli did not seem ideally in sync with his singers; one recalls more bounce in the scenes of Bohemian shenanigans. This group of newcomers seemed not quite ready to let themselves go. But the Met orchestra can play this music to perfection in its sleep, and did not sound asleep at all.

John Yohalem

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