Solid Bohème at Dallas Opera
The Music Hall at Fair Park
02/13/2009 - and February 15, 18, 21
Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
James Valenti (Rodolfo), Maria Kanyova (Mimì), Dwayne Croft (Marcello), Valentina Farcas (Musetta), Weston Hurt (Schaunard), Robert Gleadow (Colline), Steven Condy (Benoit/Alcindoro), Scott Quinn (Parpignol), Jay Gardner (Prune seller), Kyle Hancock (Custom house sergeant), Armon Golliday (Custom house guard)
Dallas Opera Orchestra, Alexander Rom (chorus master), Pietro Rizzo (conductor)
Mark Streshinsky (stage director), Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (set design), Peter J. Hall (costume design), Thomas C. Hase (lighting design), David Zimmerman (wig/makeup design)
M. Kanyova (Mimi), J. Valenti (Rodolfo)
(© Karen Almond/The Dallas Opera)
In its second-to-last production at the Music Hall in Fair Park, Dallas Opera staged a strong opening night performance of Puccini’s La Bohème. The cast—a mix of young singers and reliable veterans—served as somewhat of a microcosm for the company itself, which is on the heels of taking its own young-and-vibrant-but-world-class image to the new Winspear Opera House in the fall of 2009. The production, elegant but not flawless, both highlighted the talents of the cast and showed the areas in which they need improvement.
James Valenti as Rodolfo seemed cautious in the first and second acts, but warmed up to great effect by the third. The New Jersey native has a youthful, lyric tenor with great potential, but at times he lacks clarity in his middle register. While his voice is not big, he makes the most of it with expressivity and fine legato. Valenti delivered “Che gelida manina” gracefully and held an exquisite pianissimo at the end of “O soave fanciulla.” The quartet scenes with the other Bohemians showed the tenor at his finest both vocally and theatrically, and his gentle, almost paternal interactions with the Mimì of Maria Kanyova in the final act were especially well-acted. Valenti needs a little more bloom in his upper register to cut through some of Puccini’s soaring lines, but Rodolfo should be a strong role for him throughout his career.
The two women, however, often left something to be desired. Maria Kanyova gave a strong theatrical but vocally uneven portrayal of Mimì. The soprano resorted to straight tone singing too often for Puccini and at times struggled to stay on pitch. Her “Addio, senza rancor,” however, was sung perfectly and garnered her the biggest ovation of the night. With more consistency, her performance could be much stronger. Romanian soprano Valentina Farcas’ Musetta was, to put it bluntly, boring. Her “Quando m’en vo,” though sung well, was delivered without any sensuality or subtly towards Marcello. She fell into stand-and-sing mode early on, thinking it would be enough—it wasn’t.
Veteran baritone Dwayne Croft as Marcello showed that he’s not slowing down any time soon. His rich voice still has a strong ring at the top, and his forays into Verdi seem to have actually helped his ability to sing lyrically throughout his upper range. Croft had the most commanding stage presence of the cast, showing a full range of emotions while being sure to interact with his colleagues. Dallas would be wise to bring in more stars of his stature to show its burgeoning young roster what it takes to be a complete artist.
The other two Bohemians delighted the Dallas audience. Weston Hurt as Schaunard commanded the first scene with a clear, sizeable baritone and clever comedic timing—more substantial, legato filled roles will suit his Italianate sound. Bass Robert Gleadow, a product of Covent Garden’s young artist program, sang Colline spritely and with easily spun lines. His “Vecchia zimarra” was poignantly slow and more reminiscent of a funeral march than an ode, but it worked—despite his somewhat light bass, Gleadow contrasted the ominous pizzicato in the orchestra with a smooth, sensitive vocal line, as if he wasn’t quite ready to give in to Mimì’s death. Also of note was the company’s young artist, tenor Scott Quinn as Parpignol. Although he only had a few lines, he made the most of them, showing off a strong, ringing voice.
Young Italian conductor Pietro Rizzo, making both his company and American debut, drew a powerful performance from the Dallas Opera Orchestra. With delicacy and patience, Rizzo carefully stirred the musicians to passionate yet controlled crescendi. The true test of an opera conductor, however, is his ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of his cast—Rizzo passed with flying colors. The Italian paid careful attention to the vocalists, keeping the orchestra down when necessary and releasing it at the right times, rarely letting his musicians overcome his singers. If this Bohème is any indication of Rizzo’s abilities, both Dallas and the rest of the opera world have much to look forward to in this conductor.
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production, though well-traveled, still has some flaws. The so-called garret in the first act is merely a raised platform with an easel and fireplace. While this made for a seamless switch into the Café Momus, it left too much to the imagination. Mark Streshinsky’s stage direction didn’t help; the invisible door into the room itself was at first overtly “opened,” and later simply walked through as if it wasn’t there in the first place. Streshinsky made another odd choice in having Mimì mope about the garret during the first scene, then leave the stage again before making her “real” entrance later in the act.
Despite these awkward choices, Dallas has a quality Bohème, boasting more than a handful of young stars and a promising conductor. The futures of both the company and its singers are looking very bright.