Franco Zeffirelli’s near 40-year-old production of Puccini’s La Bohème has long been a vehicle for debuting artists at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Some of the greatest sopranos have donned Mimì’s blue shawl, ready to sing of spring’s arrival and leave even the most hardened of opera-goers misty-eyed – recall 80s divas Renata Scotto, Ileana Cotrubas and Teresa Stratas, or, more recently, Anna Netrebko, Kristine Opolais and Sonya Yoncheva. Following in their vaunted footsteps in what was her Met debut, Nicole Car’s turn as Puccini’s seamstress yesterday evening confirms what Australian audiences already know – that this soprano’s star is very much on the ascendant.
Nicole Car. Photo © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Although she appeared opposite the dynamic, much loved Rodolfo of Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo, Car’s Mimì was singled out for special praise. The New York Times wrote that she “brought fine-grained tone and nuanced acting to the role of Mimì. There was a light, linear quality to her singing in the first act that opened up to a richer palette as renunciation and terminal illness darkened her character’s life. Her final scene, with Mimì on her deathbed surrounded by friends, was all the more poignant because she showed no trace of melancholy.”
New York Classical Review also hailed Car’s moving assumption of the role, praising her “deeply artistic” portrayal, “full of feeling while always unadorned, never showy or indulgent.” Though the review noted that her “relatively quiet singing was often buried” in a house as big as the Met’s, it was full of praise for the soprano. “In contrast to what is typically heard in this opera, Car was understated, her phrases simply going from start to finish with great beauty and elegance. One’s attention was drawn directly to the character, what she was thinking and feeling. This was especially striking throughout the Act III scenes with her beloved, the painter Rodolfo… and Marcello. Her legato lines in ‘Dunque è prioprio finita!’ were exceptionally musical.”
Vittorio Grigolo and Nicole Car. Photo © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Bachtrack likewise applauded her “sympathetic stage presence” and ability to sing with “lyricism and delicate tenderness,” though the reviewer had similar reservations about Car’s ability to project in a big house.
The soprano was not the only cast member to be making their Met debut yesterday – her husband, the French-Canadian baritone Étienne Dupuis, was also appearing in that house for the first time as the painter Marcello.
Nicole Car and Étienne Dupuis. Photo © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Critics had praise for him too, with The New York Times writing, “Ms. Car’s husband… revealed a suave, empathetic baritone as Marcello, the leading man’s best friend. Refined and charismatic, his singing anchored many ensemble numbers.”
New York Classical Review was similarly impressed, stating, “One was tempted to speculate that the offstage relationship between Car and Dupuis was responsible for the superb balance and mix between her soprano and his equally gentle, smooth baritone.”
In Limelight’s profile of the singer earlier this year, Car spoke about the excitement of making her Met debut. “I have been waiting for this moment for a long time. I think every singer dreams of singing at the Met. I have seen the Zeffirelli production three or four times in New York and I absolutely love it. I remember sitting in the audience picturing myself singing on that set one day, so when the offer came through it truly felt like a dream. It’s such an iconic production… I feel lucky to be a part of its history.”
For Stateside fans of Car, it will be music to their ears that the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, is already looking to re-engage both the soprano and Dupuis sometime in the near future. But her Australian fans shouldn’t feel left out – they will be giving joint recitals around the country in 2019.