Los Angeles opera audiences were granted access to one opera regarded by a considerable contingent as the “world’s greatest opera” and another opera considered by other multitudes as “the world’s most nearly perfect opera.” One conductor, Germany’s Hartmut Haenchen, enjoyed the rare privilege of conducting both: Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” on Saturday night, Puccini’s “La Boheme” on Sunday’s matinee. Both operas survived handsomely, as did conductor Haenchen. (Later in the nine-performance run he will be “relieved” for three performances of “Bohème” by L.A. Opera honcho Placido Domingo.)
Many of the cast members of “Bohème” — regarded as the “perfect” opera in terms of the realistic nature of its youthful emotions shared by its large panoply of characters — are recent participants in the Domingo-run “Operalia” competitions; some, like the 2006 first-place winner Maija Kovalevska who sang the Mimi on Sunday, have already gone on to a Metropolitan Opera debut. One of the two Rodolfos, tenor Arturo Chacon-Cruz, was pressed into service earlier this season to replace an ailing soloist in L.A. Opera’s Verdi “Requiem.”
It was a young cast made up of unfamiliar names, perhaps, but experience showed, and so did mastery. Kovalevska, tall and more handsome than merely pretty, got the crowd to sit up at the start of her “Mi chiamano Mimi” and kept them there with a voice of great strength and clarity. All four Bohemians, led by the passionate Rodolfo of tenor Massimo Giordano, kept splendid pace, as did the marvelously antic Musetta of Laquita Mitchell.
The production itself is the venerable but serviceable creation of the late film director Herbert Ross, splendid in its natural use of indoor and outdoor areas, its Parisian atmosphere enhanced by the vignette of the almost-finished Eiffel Tower nearby. Talk about atmosphere: the Café Momus scene seems to get more crowded, and more loaded with great crowd tricks, with every revival. No argument here.