Low rent

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  November 6, 2007

Except for several dicy, unsupported high notes (one of them, an important one, at the climax of Rodolfo’s big first-act aria), Taylor’s small tenor voice is an elegant one, ideal for a song recital with piano accompaniment in a more intimate hall. He makes a handsome leading man, though as an actor he’s restrained, even constricted in expression. His Rodolfo has a relentlessly dour disposition. Was it Ocel who encouraged him not to look other characters in the eye (as in his entire third-act reconciliation duet with Mimi)? Did I believe that Rodolfo and Mimi fall instantly and deeply in love? Not for a minute.

Baritone Timothy Mix makes a solid, likable Marcello. Soprano Kimwaner Doner has the right sparkle in her voice for Musetta, but her sense of character seems to come from situation comedy. Burns does a good job with Colline’s touching farewell to his soon-to-be-hocked overcoat, but Pelto doesn’t put enough space around this aria to make it the memorable moment it was meant to be. Baritone Andrew Garland, with little help from Ocel, doesn’t do much to make the musician Schaunard, the fourth roommate, very distinctive. On the other hand, bass-baritone Tom O’Toole keeps the two minor characters he plays, the landlord and Musetta’s wealthy keeper, thoroughly distinct.

There’s a corny but nice touch during the first-act love duet when the walls of Erhard Rom’s simple garret part and a gigantic full moon rises as the lovers leave the stage during their final high notes. When we return to the garret for Mimi’s death, the walls have turned into clouds (into which Colline, with his back to the audience, urinates). Very romantic. I just wish that whatever keeps Puccini’s music eternally fresh were embodied in a production that captured that freshness.

Collage New Music has pared its season down to two concerts, both featuring the music of Luciano Berio, who died in 2003. Berio was always full of surprises, and the first Collage program, devoted to his piano music, had plenty of them. Christopher Oldfather led off with the 1965 Rounds, for harpsichord, which allows the performer to make lots of free choices — like slapping the keyboard with the flat of the hands. After intermission, Donald Berman played Berio’s 1967 revision, in which everything is completely annotated — like pounding the keyboard with an entire arm. Both pianists conveyed the piece’s wild jazz element and ticklish refinement. “Scarlatti meets Monk,” music director David Hoose quoted Berman. (Between pieces, he also quoted some of Berio’s delicious remarks.) Oldfather was complete master of Berio’s masterpiece of keyboard exploration, Sequenza IV; then Berman returned with Six Encores, exquisite short nature pieces dating between 1965 and 1990, alternately jumpy and flowing, thumping and rustling, and written in styles as diverse as Debussy and Tchaikovsky.

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