It was a night of debuts _ led by the promising young Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo _ as the Metropolitan Opera revived Puccini's "La Boheme" for the first time this season.
But the most accomplished performance Saturday night was turned in by a singer who was new to neither the house nor the production. Maija Kovalevska, a Latvian soprano who made her debut in this opera four years ago, was deeply affecting as Mimi, the Parisian seamstress who falls in love with the poet Rodolfo but is doomed to die of consumption.
Kovalevska's lustrous tone, the delicate shadings of her voice, and her sympathetic and understated acting made her a memorable Mimi indeed. Her third-act aria, in which she bids her lover farewell, rightly drew a huge ovation. And in the final act, the way she struggled to sit up in bed, smiling bravely, for one final reunion with Rodolfo, was heartrending.
As Rodolfo, Grigolo displayed an attractive, bright lyric tenor voice and acted the part of an impetuous youth with enthusiasm. He would seem to have all the ingredients for a successful career. On Saturday, however, especially in the opening scene, he may have been trying too hard, both in his overly emphatic gestures and his singing, which occasionally sounded forced.
When he relaxed, he offered some thrilling high notes at full volume and, even better, some lovely soft singing. Surprisingly, though, his despairing final cries of "Mimi" over his sweetheart's body failed to register with the visceral impact they usually do.
Grigolo arrived at the Met on waves of anticipation, heavily promoted by his record company and coming off a triumphant debut at London's Royal Opera House last spring in Massenet's "Manon."
Some of his unevenness may well have been opening night nerves. He has five more performances through Nov. 5 to ease into the role and the new house.
Also debuting were both partners in the supporting couple of quarreling lovers whose story plays out more happily than Mimi and Rodolfo's. As the flirtatious Musetta, American soprano Takesha Meshe Kizart won the audience's hearts with the charm and flair of her personality and a potent upper register, including some formidable high notes for her Waltz Song. Italian baritone Fabio Capitanucci brought warmth and a smooth vocal line to his portrayal of Marcello, her on-again, off-again lover.
Supporting players included baritone Edward Parks as the musician Schaunard and bass-baritone Shenyang, rounding out the quartet of bohemians as the philosopher Colline.
Conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, also making his debut, led a performance that dragged in spots, and he didn't always keep the orchestra in sync with the soloists.
Grigolo is the first in an unusually strong lineup of tenors who will be singing Rodolfo this season as the Met continues to revive its overly lavish but crowd-pleasing Franco Zeffirelli production at every opportunity. In December, Joseph Calleja will make four appearances, then Piotr Beczala sings the role four times in January and February, followed by Ramon Vargas with three performances later in February.