Adriana Damato and Cast in La Bohème, Washington National Opera, 2007, photo by Karin Cooper
Because the singers were chosen more for their tender age and good looks, we are obliged to start there. Tenor Vittorio Grigolo (Rodolfo) and soprano Nicole Cabell (Musetta) have both traded on their striking physiques to sell solo albums of dubious musical worth, and they are beautiful to watch live. It must have been possible, however, to find a Mimi who was a little less chunky around the middle than Adriana Damato. The closeup headshots and video of the Italian soprano, the latter shot handheld in real time by Rodolfo, were not particularly forgiving, either. To complete the lead quartet, one could only wonder what Cabell's Musetta saw in the diminutive, nerdy photographer Marcello of Korean baritone Hyung Yun, over whom she towered.
Vittorio Grigolo, tenor
Both Damato and Cabell were near-inaudible with alarming frequency, as was Yun at times, although his round baritone was at least pleasant to hear when it came through. In the Act III quartet scene, when Marcello and Musetta are supposed to be having a knock-out, drag-down fight while Mimi and Rodolfo make up, Cabell and Yun looked like a dumbshow of exaggerated gestures at the back of the stage. When you cast primarily for looks and your singers need amplification, it's called musical theater and bringing it to the opera house will not draw young people to opera, although it may drive people who love opera away. It is also important to realize that just because they are young does not mean that these less experienced singers will come across any more naturally on the stage than older singers with bigger voices. In fact, much of the acting on Saturday night was stilted. For all of Grigolo's vaunted apprenticeship with Pavarotti, great acting is not a skill we would expect to have been transmitted.
Tim Page, 'La Bohème,' Updated and Nearly Undone (Washington Post, September 17)
T. L. Ponick, 'Boheme' in loft still true to Puccini (Washington Times, September 17)
Kevin Chaffee, Buzz over a startling 'Boheme' (Washington Times, September 17)
Charles T. Downey, Washington National Opera: La Ho-Hum (DCist, September 17)
Tim Smith, Washington National Opera offers modern 'La Boheme' (Baltimore Sun, September 19)
Only three of the remaining eight performances of La Bohème are sold out. This Sunday's matinee will be broadcast live to a big screen on the National Mall (September 23, 2 pm), and $25 tickets are being offered for the September 25 and 27 performances, through the Access to Opera Tickets program (sold only on the day of the performance, at the box office, starting at 10 pm). Perhaps the B cast, performing in alternation with this cast and featuring tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz (who was pretty good in Madama Butterfly last season) as Rodolfo, will be better.
In a grand tradition celebrating the nexus of art and ostentation at the heart of opera, the patrons of Washington National Opera gathered in the Roof Terrace of the Kennedy Center after Saturday's performance for the Opening Night Gala. The guest list featured ambassadors (from Brazil, Kuwait, Afghanistan, India, Austria, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Peru, and Spain), politicians and government officials (Newt Gingrich, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and General Peter Pace), the singers and artistic staff from the opera, and even some press riff-raff. Jazz standards played by Glenn Pearson and His Orchestra (yes, thank you for the Michel Legrand selections) and the drinks flowed freely throughout dinner. The best news presented by a handful of speakers was that the funding is in place to complete the company's Ring cycle. Although the murmuring of the guests seemed to indicate that Wagner is not high on their list of priorities, General Director Plácido Domingo is absolutely right that the complete performance of Francesca Zambello's American Ring cycle will likely be one of the most important events in the history of Washington National Opera. It will bring the company some much-needed international attention.
See Michael Lodico's review of the B cast for this production, in the September 25 performance.