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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Glamorous Sound of 'La Bohème'

Florentine’s production of the world’s favorite opera

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Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème is probably the world’s favorite opera, about romance within a group of impoverished young artists in Paris and the intrusion of tragic fatal illness. The music is so appealing and sympathetic that it will connect with an audience in almost any performance. The Florentine Opera production of last weekend was a serviceable rendering of this classic.

In the central relationship of the story, the seamstress and dreamer Mimi meets the writer Rodolfo; they fall in love nearly at first sight. Marcello, a painter and Rodolfo’s roommate, has an on-again/off-again relationship with the fiery café singer Musetta. The pairs quarrel, make up and part again. Mimi becomes increasingly ill with tuberculosis and returns to Rodolfo just before she dies, with Musetta, Marcello and other friends present and shocked.

Despite a sort of glamorous sound, there were troubling aspects of soprano Alyson Cambridge’s singing as Mimi: uncertain pitch often on sustained notes, and color that became over-pronounced. She looked beautiful in the part. Tenor Noah Stewart as Rodolfo (in an unfortunate, unflattering wig) made exciting sounds at times, but rarely a satisfying phrase. His acting was overly eager and two-dimensional. I found Corey McKern’s performance as the painter Marcello honest and fresh, both as a singer and actor. Katrina Thurman’s Musetta had some nice touches. Matthew Treviño as Colline and Scott Johnson as Schaunard sang well and added some life to their parts.

The two-level set design by Peter Dean Beck was adapted for each act, with a raked floor on the first level that was a garret apartment, Café Momus or a Paris street. I overheard someone say, “Why do they keep stepping out of the apartment, leaving the apartment floor and moving onto the lower stage floor?” This did seem to “break” the imaginary fourth wall in William Florescu’s direction. The look of the production and its staging were largely conventional. Conductor Joseph Rescigno certainly took his time with the score, stretching the phrasing and giving it space, which was a bit exaggerated for my taste.