Tuesday, February 12, 2013

La Boheme – ROH, 2013 (OK Tevye, Tradition Ain’t All Bad)

Dmytro Popov, Stefania Dovahn, David Bižić, 
Nahuel Di Pierro, and Audun Iversen
There is something to be said, I guess, for a nice literal traditional opera production. Even more so for one performed by a non-superstar cast. It allows one to become more engaged in the story. My Dad and I went to see this at the local indie/arts cinema last night, mainly because they announced it when we were there on Saturday for the Lohengrin transmission (more about that in a separate post…yes there’s always more for me to say about that Lohengrin!)

This performance probably won’t make it to DVD unless someone in the cast becomes super-famous. There are already two versions of the ROH La Boheme available: with Ileana Cortrubas and Neil Schicoff and a later revival with a less well-known cast. Interestingly, reviews of both discs mention audio balance issues. Last night, Dad and I felt the orchestra (conducted by Mark Elder) really overpowered the singers in Act 1. We weren't sure if it got better or if we just got used to it. But the sound didn't seem compressed (probably for TV) as it did in the Lohengrin transmission. 

This production by John Copley is older than most of the singers in it, having premiered in 1974. It seems to have held up pretty well. It’s not going to start a firestorm of imitators, but it was a nice solid production. Mr. Copley was back to prepare this season’s  performances, taking care to instill a sense of camaraderie among the principals, particularly the four students, that made it especially enjoyable to watch them on stage. 

I was disappointed that Rolando Villazon cancelled this performance, as he was the only “big name” in the cast. But it provided a nice opportunity for tenor Dmytro Popov to show his stuff, and it allowed the whole cast to shine without the risk of standing in the superstar’s shadow. Popov has a dark tenor, and will most likely be heard in heavier roles as his career progresses.

Antonio Pappano introduced the opera and there were several behind-the-scenes features (available at the ROH site). Initially I was annoyed by the extras. I mean, it’s Monday night; show me the opera and let me get home! But, as usual, the special features added insight to the production. There were good interviews with the cast (they must have deleted any conversations with Rolando) that gave us an opportunity to know the singers and their roles.

Maija Kovalevska
Stefania Dovhan as Musetta was the musical/dramatic standout for me, and I was excited to find out this morning that she is kind of a local girl, having studied at the Baltimore School for the Arts and the University of Maryland. (She needs to have her website updated!) She was winning in her interviews, and stole the spotlight whenever she was on stage, even carrying a small dog (a la Paris Hilton) at her first entrance. I believe she is a soprano to watch for!

Also worth tracking down is handsome Serbian Barihunk David Bižić (Schaunard) and the other young principals Nahuel Di Pierro (Colline), Maija Kovalevska (Mimi),  and Audun Iversen (Marcello).  This performance, is not a spine-tingling, tear-jerking, once-in-a-lifetime opera experience, and we certainly didn't leave the theater thinking, "What the heck did that mean?" But it was well worth the time (and for an opera, a bargain price) to enjoy a nice solid, literal, traditional La Boheme. Here is one of the behind-the-scenes features that was included in the ROH broadcast: 

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