The new production of Puccini's La Bohème from Washington National Opera, is probably on everyone's radar already. It opens on September 15 for a run of nine performances,
two three of them already sold out at the time of this writing. When thinking about the question "What operas should we see in the fall," this was the the most prominent answer, and Tim Page covered it in detail earlier this week ('Bohème': We'll Always Have Paris, August 26) in the Washington Post. Page opened the article with the following question:
There must be somebody out there left cold by Giacomo Puccini's "La Bohème." But who? -- and how?
Vittorio Grigolo -- what a dreamboat!
The new staging by Polish director Mariusz Treliński (seen here in Madama Butterfly and Andrea Chénier) will probably be of interest. As I looked forward to the 2007-2008 season, this production disappointed me the most, not because of the director but because of the casting. The cast is young, singers reportedly chosen as much (or even more) for their attractive appearances as their voices. (Page discreetly avoids the issue of the singers for the most part in his article, which causes one to read between the lines.) One hopes that the company will make some money from the combination of sold-out houses and star-free budgets, but Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo may cut into the profit margin (although his alternate career as a crossover heart throb likely means he does not need money). Among the relative better-knowns, the Musetta will be Nicole Cabell, whose appearance in the role at Santa Fe Opera this summer has been described as "almost inaudible," "a bit underpowered," and "big in the recording studio, not so big otherwise." If the reason you go to the opera is to hear the most compelling singing possible, as well as to see engaging drama, you may wonder about the rate of casting to ticket price (as much as $500 on opening night!).
Brian Cummings (Him) and Elizabeth Baber (Her), Ground, American Opera Theater (Ignoti Dei Opera), 2006, photo by Greg McLeskey
The repetition of a musical trajectory, an ostinato pattern of chords, is echoed in the story created under the direction of AOT's Timothy Nelson. It is simultaneously contemporary and timeless, about a man (Him) and a woman (Her) who meet, fall in love, and -- no more spoilers. The Italian texts sung by the two performers -- this year as last year, countertenor Brian Cummings (Him) and soprano Elizabeth Baber (Her) -- have little if anything to do with the action, and supertitles usually avoid giving any literal translation. For far less money (tickets are priced from $15 to $30), you will get to see a new work of operatic theater (not an old and overdone one reworked in yet another way), but without the additional challenge of new music. Do what Clayton Koonce has already done and buy your ticket.