- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

Polish director-filmmaker Mariusz Trelinski’s kabuki-style production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” (2001, 2006) and his bizarre interpretation of Umberto Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier” (2004) for the Washington National Opera have found great favor here. Unlike most contemporary updates of cherished opera favorites, they work because they encapsulate the essential timelessness of the composers’ vision while retaining the beauty of its expression.

If anything, Mr. Trelinski’s new production of Puccini’s “La Boheme,” which originated at Poland’s Teatr Wielki-National Opera Warsaw and opened Saturday at the Kennedy Center Opera House, tops his previous efforts for WNO, scooping up Puccini’s youthful 19th-century artists and plopping them into a gritty contemporary urban loft.

Mr. Trelinski’s concept pays tribute to Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway “Boheme” as well as the spotty “Rent” while avoiding the directorial overindulgence of both. His urban bohemia is a happening place where young artists and wannabe artists can drink, rut and rebel, spending money when they have it, running up credit cards when they don’t. Or better yet, dumping their tab for a night of revels on a hapless, aging boomer who’s adjourned to the loo. Their flashy nightclubs, pulsating with neon, are peopled by costumed creatures of the night adorned like refugees from the set of “Hairspray,” the town of Bedrock, or Halle Barry’s “Catwoman.” (Their choreography, however, could use a little more work.)

Mr. Trelinski picks up on the current generation’s infatuation with photography and videocams, transforming Rodolfo’s loft into a self-referential art-film and party house currently starring his new love, Mimi, in today’s excellent adventure. Like their 19th-century counterparts, today’s Rodolfo and friends like to posture and rebel. More important, they like to put off growing up until sometime tomorrow, which amps up the opera’s famous, tragic ending to a surprising degree. This is not your father’s “La Boheme.” But it works.

The current production rotates two casts that WNO promises are both on the up-and-coming A-list. We certainly would agree with that assessment, at least with the opening-night crew. There are no “big name” stars here, although at least two of them should easily achieve that status fairly soon. The company — wisely, we think — has chosen to populate this edgy production with attractive, terrific young singers, clearly appealing to the much-sought-after younger demographic — which showed up in droves on opening night.

Opening-night honors go to tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo. Trim and attractive as befits a romantic lead, Mr. Grigolo erupted with astounding yet controlled passion in the first act’s famous love aria and duet. His performance throughout was brilliant, yet poised. He clearly has enormous potential to become one of the new generation’s truly great singers.

Soprano Nicole Cabell also excelled in the small but crucial role of Musetta. Vocally alternating coquettishness with a forceful sexuality, she is also destined for greater things as her 2005 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World award already suggests. After her wild club antics in the first act, she seemed to have developed a slight limp in the second act — hopefully nothing too serious.

Special hat tips go to soprano Adriana Damato’s nobly underplayed Mimi and baritone Hyung Yun’s riotous Marcello. Rounding out Puccini’s immortal circle of friends, bass Paolo Pecchioli (Colline) and tenor Trevor Scheunemann (Schaunard) turned in fine performances as well. The WNO Orchestra, under the baton of Emmanuel Villaume, gracefully supported this young cast throughout.


WHO: Washington National Opera

WHAT: Puccini’s “La Boheme”

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

WHEN: Sept. 17 and 29 at 7 p.m.; Sept. 19, 20, 25, 27 at 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 23 and 30 at 2 p.m. (The Sept. 23 performance will be simulcast free locally on the Mall, at the AFI Silver Theatre in Bethesda, at the Old Town Theater in Alexandria and at 32 participating schools across the country.)

TICKETS: $48 to $225

INFORMATION: Call 202/295-2400, 800/US-OPERA, or visit www.dc-opera.org. For Sept. 23 venues, visit www.dc-opera.org/access.)


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