Cancel-o-rama: Stars Go Out at Santa Fe Opera


Sudden cast changes plague Santa Fe Opera’s “La Bohème”

Review by David Gregson
Santa Fe, New Mexico, August 17

What was most certainly an exciting evening for two young opera singers was perhaps less delightful to opera-goers who know this opera by heart.

We got not one major cancellation but two — both romantic leads of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” both roles containing some of most ravishing and most familiar music ever composed. Santa Fe apprentice soprano Danielle Pastin took over for Ana Maria Martínez, just several hours before Martínez was to go on stage as Mimì. Given a somewhat earlier warning, tenor Jason Slayden had about 36 hours notice before replacing David Lomelí as Rodolfo,

One can only applaud the guts it must take to do this sort of thing and one wishes these two young singers well — but, regrettably, neither singer was truly ready for prime-time.

Of the two, Pastin showed by far the most promise. She is blessed with a beautiful voice that seems just perfect for Puccini, and she is already working out the details on what will someday be a fine Mimì.

Slayden is a bit of a puzzle to this listener. He is an attractive young man with many possibilities, and the light lyric timbre of his voice is quite pleasing. Unfortunately, as Rodolfo he was for the most part barely audible. Is his voice really that small or was he simply not projecting all he has?

On the other hand, yet a third replacement (announced some time ago), Markus Beam, taking over the role of Schaunard that was to be sung by baritone Keith Phares, seemed as secure and comfortable on stage as one might expect from a seasoned professional. He is well on his way to “going places” and was a pleasure to watch and listen to. He clearly has a handle on the part.

While I dislike the physical production, chiefly the sets by Kevin Knight (his costumes are quite OK), and I was very much not impressed by the orchestra’s playing under the leadership of Leonardo Vordoni (Lord what a dispirited bore of a reading!), I enjoyed most of the rest of the cast: a Colline (Christian Van Horn), both crustier and more vulnerable than usual; the Musetta (Heidi Stober), delightfully stealing the scene as she should always do; the landlord Benois (Thomas Hammons), more recognizably human and less broadly comical than one has come to expect; and Marcello (Corey McKern), convincingly smitten and vexed.

I realize Mr. Knight’s clever idea was to fold up the poets’ garret into a wall that would define two Paris city streets, but it just ends up looking like a huge grey adobe lump blocking your view, depending on where you sit.

Paul Curran’s stage direction overflowed with invention, although there were times when the characters that should be relating to one another didn’t seem to be doing so.

To sum it all up — even at a mere two hours with a 15-minute intermission, this was a long evening. However lively the antics on stage, the opera as a whole did not deliver the deep musical and dramatic satisfaction one craves from Puccini.

(Tuesday’s cast)
Mimi – DANIELLE PASTIN ( in for Ana María Martínez)
Musetta – Heidi Stabber
Marcello – Corey McKern
Rodolfo – JASON SLAYDEN (in for David Lomeli)
Schaunard – Markus Beam (replacing Keith Phares)
Colline – Christian Van Horn
Benoit/Alcindoro – Thomas Hammons
Parpignol – Michael Daily

Conductor – Leonardo Vordoni
Director – Paul Curran
Costume Designer – Kevin Knight
Lighting Designer – Rick Fisher

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