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For the third performance of Dallas Opera’s production of La Bohème (Mar. 18), Dimitri Pittas stepped in at the last minute to replace the indisposed Bryan Hymel. After a wobbly start, cavorting with his fellow Bohemians in their garret, the young tenor dispelled any disappointment the expectant audience might have harbored. Pittas produced a warmly Italian tone, and in his self-introduction to Mimì he epitomized the ardent young lover and the dreaming, idealist poet. With a thrilling high forte note (“la dolce speranza,” at the end of his aria) he won the hearts of both the frail seamstress and the appreciative audience. “O soave fanciulla” was richly layered. As the lovers left the stage at the end of Act I, heading to the Café Momus, their off-stage voices melted harmoniously. The Act III duet was sung with crystalline tautness, and the heartbreaking Act IV “Ah, Mimì, tu più non torni” allowed Pittas to stretch his legato in the service of vocal and dramatic truth.
The production was the old, respectable, warm and conventional one designed for Dallas by the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, with a single raised platform in the middle of the stage serving as the young men’s garret room, a table at the Café (Act II), and the police headquarters (Act III). Three sides of the stage represented a Parisian square (dimmed for Act III). Peter Kazaras, making his Dallas debut, handled stage direction for this revival efficiently, although the small platform inevitably restricted the playful shenanigans of the Bohemians. The attractive nineteenth-century-style costumes were by the late Peter J. Hall.
Riccardo Frizza, also in his Dallas debut, conducted with suppleness. The orchestra occasionally overwhelmed the singers, especially Jonathan Beyer (Marcello) and Steven LaBrie (Schaunard), two attractive artists of significant promise. Alexander Vinogradov (Colline) had no difficulties at all with the orchestra. The young Russian bass has a mellow, rich instrument, put to superb use in Colline’s throw-away last act farewell to his overcoat (“Vecchia zimarra, senti”), which Vinogradov sang with steady, self-conscious sentimentality that never strayed into campiness. Stefan Szkafarowsky did double duty as Benoit and Alcindoro. In Act I he used his considerable vocal technique to add depth to his characterization of a figure simultaneously comic and pathetic.
Davinia Rodriguez, an almost over-the-top Musetta, swanned into Act II as a virtual rainbow of colors: a flame red cape covered her bright yellow gown cinched by a turquoise sash. A pink hat crowned her copper-colored hair. Rodriguez’s vamping complemented her “Quando m’en vo,” which she performed with alternating flickers of seductiveness and comic brio. By Act IV, her Musetta became a warmly human figure. Praying for Mimì (“Madonna benedetta, fate la grazia a questa poveretta”), Rodriguez sang with tender compassion.
Grammy winner Ana María Martínez made a compelling Mimì. Her voice was bright and creamy at the top, and, even better, dusky in its mid-range, a hint of velvet adding richness to the luster. At the end of “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” Martínez put a delicate little quiver into her apology for having disturbed her neighbor: “Sono la tua vicina” sings the self-effacing seamstress. It’s no wonder Rodolfo fell in love with her immediately.
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