COSTA MESA — Most Mimis die pretty, picturesque deaths at the end of Puccini's "La Boheme." Not Cassandra Riddle, who on Wednesday took over the role of the tubercular seamstress for Opera Pacific.
Riddle offered a harrowing, inch-by-inch descent into the grave, with a cough that tortured the body into a rigid stretch. Mimi's death actually drew some applause, which, however indecorous, was strangely appropriate.
Earlier, Riddle had invested the character with an untypical clinging, desperate, even neurotic need--all of which helped compensate for a soprano that was neither sweet, big nor warm. Call it drama at the expense of voice, or the Maria Ewing syndrome.
On the other hand, Riddle's voice is not that tattered. She certainly had enough breath control to outlast the eccentric phrasing and drawn-out tempos of conductor Christian Badea (previously reviewed) and the partnership of a breathless, vocally troubled new Rodolfo, Carlo Scibelli.
Scibelli, who sang Monteverdi's Telemaco in May in Los Angeles, here lacked ping, focus and vocal heft. Perhaps he was indisposed.
As a dreamy poet, he produced a light, narrow, unvarying column of sound, with especially awkward effort evident in launching a few dubious top notes. A bleat developed in the final act.
The only other new cast member was John Autry, who brought flat affect and a woolly baritone to the role of Marcello. Marcello's remark to Rodolfo that love must thrive in mirth and gladness was made almost incomprehensible by Autry's one-note serious acting style.
This and the opening-night cast will alternate in performances through Sunday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
* "La Boheme" repeats Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $28-$93. (714) 740-2000.