One of the more detached Bohèmes that OC has been to, with every eye in the house bone dry and tissues unused by the time Ramón Vargas uttered, "Che vuol dire quell'andare e venire...", though not all fault of the tenor. The chemistry between the Ceauşescu-ian ice princess and our Mexican lyric-of-many-scarves was not terribly convincing, and Gheorghiu was detached, while Vargas remained aloof when scenes called for them to converge. Both singers acted independently well enough, but a sense of platonic buddies pervaded their scenes together. Gheorgs couldn't wait for her death scene to be over, squirming uncomfortably and stroking her jaw, while Teh Fargster kept hovering over her and kept like 3-inches away at all times.
The best performance was by Italian Maestro Nicola Luisotti, who guided the tipsy, capsizable ship of Puccini's La Bohème to the safe shores. Angela Gheorghiu was at the helm of S.S. Unprepared, struggling to match obvious and egregious orchestral cues, at one point transposing notes at the end of a passage that was waiting for her measures ahead, and giving Maestro Luisotti the best workout he's had in years. Things got so precarious at one moment that Luisotti abandoned his orchestra and began furiously guiding the short-of-sight Gheorghiu through one of her simpler, later act songs with gigantic and florid flutters of his hand, matching her swells with the ebbs of the orchestra. Gheorghiu hasn't been doing her homework, and bombed the oral quiz. Vargas was more or less on point and the house clearly loves him. His Che gelida manina! wasn't anywhere close to perfection, but he received a wall of spontaneous bravi from the crowds, despite the fact that his voice at the higher notes was pinched, and he strangled a passage.
When Gheorgs wasn't singing to the beat of her own drummer that mysteriously thumped away inside her own head, or searching for the proper facial expression instead of her dependable fallback knotted brows, or beginning her scenes in a timid, inaudible voice that grew in confidence and volume as the act gelled, what did emit from her was a gorgeous, tender, well controlled voice. Act I was a mess for her entrances, while Act III had her struggling once again against the orchesetra. More insulting than her sloppiness was the male leader of the local Gheorghiu fan club, who screamed encouragement from the Family Circle at the end of an early aria "BRAVO". FAIL! U FAIL @ LIFE!
The perfect sound coaxed by Maestro Luisotti from the Metropolitan Orchestra was at moments heavenly. His mastery of Puccini's well-known score was a stellar interpretation, his idiosyncrasies insanely sexay and elegantly succinct, picking-up passages that can easily delve into sentimentality and sappiness. Afterall, it was Italian Maestro Nicola Luisotti's grandpappy that duck hunted with Puccini himself, so we expected a lot from the legacy of Puccini's circle of friends.
One of the highlights of the night was the presentation of two plaques to Mistah Franco Frengo Zeffirelli, who toddled onstage at the end of Act II's immense and unforgettable Cafe Momus scene before the first intermission to speak a few words. Gelb came out and elaborated that they were putting up two commemorative plaques on the stage walls. Frengo then thanked everyone, and personally thanked Mirella Freni, Carlos Kleiber, and Luciano Pavarotti. And Opera Chic. And his legions of silk and cashmere scarves. We <3 u Frengo!
There were a few opening night issues that have to be worked out, such as when Vargas and Gheorghiu remained in shadowed darkness during Act III's "Donde lieta usci". But more on that tomorrow, cuz this OC without sleep thing is about to get ugly.