- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

As longtime classical music buffs put it, the Washington National Opera’s production of “La Boheme” was the most audacious season kickoff in company history.

There was major buzz at the Kennedy Center Opera House Saturday night after the second act’s famous “Boul. Mich.” Parisian cafe scene, radically transformed into a glam Studio 54-style costume extravaganza by avant-garde Polish director Mariusz Trelinski.

Giacomo Puccini might have gone into anaphylactic shock at the triumphal entrance of Village People-esque cowboys and Indians, inflated drag queens, pimps and their women — to say nothing of Zorro, Elvis, Ronald McDonald and a whip-cracking dominatrix.

“I wondered what they were going to do with the children’s chorus, and then all the Playboy Bunnies came out,” opera patron Antonia Gore exclaimed to a friend in the Golden Circle Lounge over a thoughtful intermission spread of crab cakes and champagne.

Others weren’t so sure.

Asked about the famed “Musetta’s Waltz” aria — Mr. Trelinski’s version features a Madonna-like character bumping and grinding with lithe chorus boys — Virginia Williams’ praise was mixed. “All that wild dancing was a little bit much,” the former “dramatic soprano” and “La Boheme” veteran declared, “but the dancers were so young and beautiful.”

At the thousand-bucks-a-pop dinner dance in the Atrium afterward, Mr. Trelinski , 46, reiterated his mission to bring opera into the 21st century.

“People say it is dying,” the Warsaw-based film, theater and opera director told a reporter. “I want to open a door to a new generation to prove that opera can be just as sexy and energetic as a music video clip.” For him, the freaky characters in the cafe scene are “American icons … part of the American dream.”

The evening’s second jolt came courtesy of Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo, whose electrifying company debut as Rodolfo earned post-performance ovations as well.

“Oh, please let him come over here,” one wealthy benefactress sighed as the handsome superstar in the making charmed guests at a nearby table.

Mr. Grigolo, 30, soon was entertaining newswoman Barbara Harrison, pal Franco Nuschese and others with impromptu comments about the likelihood of his becoming an opera sex symbol.

“I don’t know about sex symbols,” he said with a mischievous grin. “I just make love.”

Later, discussion turned to a more sober topic: voice lessons with Luciano Pavarotti just a month before the tenor’s death. “He was very ill … and only became alive when we were singing,” Mr. Grigolo recalled of his mentor. “He gave me his love. He gave me the last hours of his life.”

— Kevin Chaffee

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