Gleaming vocalism from two leads makes for a powerful “Boheme” in Santa Fe
In a season offering three rarely heard works by Vivaldi, Menotti, and Alban Berg, Santa Fe Opera must have felt that they needed to hedge their bets with not one but two repertory mainstays guaranteed to provide box office, Faust and La Boheme.
Santa Fe’s Faust offered a clever and stylish updating, while the Boheme, heard Tuesday night, was largely traditional. If not everything worked, the gleaming, inspired performances by the two lead singers sparked a Boheme that lifted Puccini’s romantic favorite out of the ordinary.
David Lomeli isn’t a household name yet but based on his remarkable performance as Rodolfo, he could well be on the way to a major career. Making his company debut, the young Mexican singer showed that he is the real thing — a lyric tenor with a rich, vibrant voice, ample squillo and that idiomatic ping on top. Lomeli’s golden-voiced, lovingly phrased Che gelida manina nearly stopped the show and his singing throughout was both balm to the ears and dramatically involved. A superb actor, Lomeli brought a natural quality to the comedy as well as the tragedy, with a jarring, heart-breaking intensity to the final scene.
Ana Maria Martinez is a better known quantity. One wouldn’t associate Martinez with the role of the fragile seamstress, yet – some fleeting arch moments apart – she brought surprising empathy to the role. The soprano sang quite beautifully throughout with a wide range of intimate expression and striking hairpin diminuendos. Her Donde lieta usci was the highlight of the evening, pure-toned, tender and suffused with sadness and regret.
Corey McKern proved a worthy Marcello, equal to the comedy and drama and blending nicely with Lomeli in their Act 4 duet. Heidi Stober showed a clear, attractive voice; unfortunately, her choppy Quando me’ vo’ was less than stellar Tuesday.
Markus Beam was an admirable Schaunard, Christian Van Horn a sonorous Colline, though his overly robust Vecchia zimarra could have used more feeling and intimacy.
Director Paul Curran, who helmed an unforgettable Lulu at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2008, proved much less convincing in Puccini’s romantic tragedy. The director seemed overly intent on freshening up Puccini’s warhorse with busy bits of stage business that merely proved distracting and wound up intruding on the music — from the boys’ overcaffeinated antics in Act 1 to Rodolfo’s vocal interjections during Mimi’s aria. Having Marcello and Musetta curtail their fight in the quartet of Act 3 to suddenly make up (and make out) upstaged some lovely singing by Lomeli and Martinez. When a director winds up with two Bohemians and Musetta standing on table tops at Café Momus, we’ve got a problem, Houston. Worst of all was the hash made of Musetta’s Waltz with Curran trying to work in so much comic shtick with Stober throwing things around that her vocalism was adversely affected.
Kevin Knight’s functional scenic design offered an intimate two-walled abode for the Bohemians’ garret, which closed to form a backdrop for the quasi-unit set for Acts 2 and 3. The bare set proved more efficient than evocative with the customs house of Act 3 suggesting a Masonic underground chamber at Los Alamos.
In his festival debut, conductor Leonardo Vordoni provided a mostly steady and idiomatic hand in the pit, drawing out the lyricism nicely though the Café Momus scene could have used more dynamism and brassy punch.
La Boheme runs through August 26. santafeopera.org; 800-280-4654.