By Daniel Ginsberg
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, September 21, 2007
In the Washington National Opera's not-too-distant past, there are some eye-popping stories about alternate casts that would come in at the middle of a production run. One conductor had to wish the orchestra a good evening after the overture and focus every ounce of attention on the inexperienced singers, some sounding like they were straight out of conservatory.
On Wednesday evening at the Kennedy Center, a second but by no means second-class group took the company's ongoing production of Puccini's "La Bohème." If the success of the night was any indicator, the company's casting has improved remarkably.
Led by Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz in the central roles of Mimi and Rodolfo, the artists moved fluidly through Mariusz Trelinski's production. Record companies may not be yet touting any of these singers as the next superstar, but they showed great professionalism and integrity. Together, they radiated chemistry and sang with as much passion as refinement. They used every aspect of their artistry to bring out the opera's full beauty.
In each of the four acts, the cast was sensitive to themes of youthful insouciance, struggling poverty and welling romance. The characters showed their vulnerabilities, a fear about opening themselves to others in such impoverished confines.
What makes "La Bohème" such a crowd pleaser is of course the gorgeously expressive music, replete with mellifluous arias and duets. Chacón-Cruz and Cvilak set the pace in the opening act with naturally phrased, idiomatic accounts of "Che gelida manina" ("Your tiny hand is frozen") and "Mi chiamano Mimi" ("They call me Mimi"), two of opera's most famous arias.
Italian baritone Luca Salsi sang with charm and force in the part of Marcello, while Alyson Cambridge's attractive soprano (as Musetta) always held in good stead. Providing a substantial contribution was bass Guenther Groissboeck as Colline. His last-act aria was one of the more arresting moments. Nathan Herfindahl was a jovial Schaunard, while Michael Nansel took the role of Alcindoro.
The Washington National Opera Orchestra sounded wonderfully sure under the baton of Emmanuel Villaume, who illuminated the score's lithe phrases and lovely colors.
The two casts now trade off holding the stage until the production wraps up at the end of the month.