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Monday, September 23, 2013

Kentucky Opera Opens a New Season with “La Boheme”

Patrick O'Halloran as Rodolpho and Corinne Winters as
Mimi in La Boheme. Photo by Patrick Pfister.


La Boheme

By Giacomo Puccini

Directed by David Roth
Conducted by Joseph Mechavich

Reviewed by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

For those who are not familiar with the score of La Boheme, it is not like many other operas in that there is no sweeping, theme-heavy overture. A few measures and the magic begins. As the curtain rises from the stage of the historic Brown Theatre, the audience is introduced to an open living space, darkly lit, sparsely decorated, and littered with a painter’s tools and a poet’s paraphernalia. You can tell that it is cold, from the frost on the paned windows to the shabbily dressed principals.

Let me say as a person who has been honored to perform and sing with some of the best talent from around the world, I am happy to let you know the next generation is right here, right now, and it is good.

It takes a lot for a vocalist to make me swoon, but it happens a few times in this Kentucky Opera production. From the first notes of Patrick O’ Halloran’s Rodolfo and Luis Orozco’s Marcello, I thought I would be in for a treat, but more on that later.

Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard and Colline are roommates in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century. Struggling artists they all are, but they share the want to be warm, to have full bellies, to be happy, and to be loved. When Schaunard (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) arrives back at the flat, he shares a bit of his newfound small fortune and convinces his band of comely friends to enjoy themselves in the Latin Quarter at the lively Café Momus to celebrate Christmas Eve with wine, women, food and song. Rodolfo lags behind to work on his poetry. He struggles, either from writer’s block or cold. But suddenly a knock on the door changes lives forever. Enter Mimi, beautifully portrayed by Corinne Winters, a frail and lovely seamstress who was looking for someone to relight her candle. Yes. It is a metaphorical device. She, too, was like the roommates, looking for a new light in her life as well.

O’Halloran and Winters were a delight to listen to in their flirtatious recitatives and even in their glances at one another; one could not help but hope that these two have found the love they were looking for. In the aria “Mi chiamano Mimi,” Winters’ strong soprano was lovely; and with this being one of the two most well-known arias in any repertoire, she made it her own, so much so that as she sang I had a sense that the stage was getting brighter, when in fact it wasn’t – it was that transformative. Act One’s closing duet “O suave fanciulla,” although beautifully sung, was overshadowed by a lot of tenor. That very well could have been because Ms. Winters was marking a bit, but I was longing to hear a better balance.  

Act Two shows the bustling town square filled to the brim with soldiers, townspeople, children and vendors. And like the Pied Piper, here enters Parpignol, a toy seller, and the children excitedly sing out his name and praises. I can attest that this is one fast moving piece of music. The Children’s Chorus had a hard time, in the beginning, finding their footing; but they finally found their way under Maestro Mechavich’s baton. The Opera Chorus had similar problems but were very quick to recover. Downstage left is the Café in which the roommates and Mimi enjoy each other’s company. But then enters Musetta, portrayed by Louisville native Emily Albrink, with her new beau, the wealthy and older Alcindoro. Musetta sees her former love, Marcello, and decides to sing her way back into his arms. “Quando me’n vo” is such a fun and diva-ish aria to sing, and Ms. Albrink was spot on, having a hint of sultry vixen and school girl crush in her voice and actions. Of course the song works and Musetta feigns a hurt foot and asks Alcindoro to take her boot to the cobbler to fix it, which gives her the chance to run back to the arms of Marcello once more and leaves the bill to her jilted older suitor.

Act Three opens with snow falling on the square, empty save for the town’s guards and peddlers and cleaners. It is a month or so later and we see a frail and sickly Mimi searching for her friends Marcello and Musetta. Marcello exits the tavern and Mimi asks if Rodolfo is in there, which he is. Mimi shares with Marcello that she feels she needs to leave Rodolfo because of his jealousy through the aria “O buon Marcello, aiuto." Shortly thereafter, Rodolfo enters the square, which prompts Mimi to hide. You can see a visibly concerned and distraught Rodolfo as he explains to his friend Marcello that he believes his relationship with Mimi must end because of fighting. But Marcello knows better and Rodolfo confesses that he feels it is because of him and the lack of ability to support her that it is making her sick. Upon hearing this, Mimi reveals herself as Marcello goes to the tavern after overhearing Musetta laugh. Marcello sees that Musetta is chatting up a stranger. As the quartet “Addio dolce svegliare” comes to a close, we see two different results: Musetta and Marcello part; and Rodolfo and Mimi decide to stay together at least until the first flowers of spring. As lovely as the quartet is, I often heard one artist over the other artists. I can understand when you are singing as a quartet. But together as a duet on opposite ends of the stage, it makes it difficult to hear each other, and the lack of balance was not as pleasant as I would have liked.

It has now been a few months and Act Four opens with a lonely Rodolfo and Marcello lamenting over their past loves in the lovely duet “O Mimi, to piu non torni.” I could hear the torment in their voices, the longing of love that these men still had for their loves. Enter Schaunard and Colline, who lighten the mood with some great play acting, sword fighting and wrestling that absolutely delighted me and the whole audience. I hadn’t laughed and smiled at antics like that in a while. But soon that joviality is dimmed as Musetta hurriedly enters the flat and tells the group that Mimi is dying and wishes to see Rodolfo. As she is brought into the room by Rodolfo, you could instantly sense how close this group of friends had gotten in such a short amount of time – each of them willing to do what it took to help Mimi recover her health, even selling what meager belongings that they have. And here is where I tell you about vocalists who make me swoon. As I mentioned, O’Halloran and Orozco are great complements to their roles: wonderfully sung, arching top notes and expressive harmonies. But I haven’t talked about Mr. Smith-Kotlarek or John Arnold, who plays Colline. Despite Schaunard being a musician, he is understated in how much solo work he gets in this piece. But when he does, it is a fine job, especially in his first act aria. Enter Colline, a philosopher, who to help the cause in getting Mimi's help offers to sell his treasured overcoat in the aria “Vecchia zimarra.” Oh my goodness! I wanted to listen to Mr. Arnold singing that all night long. Pitch perfect and filled with emotion. As the group disperses to find medicine and bring comforting items to Mimi, Rodolfo and Mimi share loving memories in the touching duet “Sono andati” and are able to reconcile any problems they once had. As Musetta returns after selling off her earrings to give Mimi a muff to keep her hands warm, she sees Mimi’s end is near and runs to the arms of Marcello, who sees it as well. Mimi asks to rest but passes shortly after as Rodolfo goes to his friends to tell them that she is resting, only to see in their eyes that Mimi has passed. He runs to her side and the friends have turned away in sadness. The curtain falls with Rodolfo’s shout of “Mimi.”    

La Boheme

Friday, September 20, 2013, at 8 p.m.

Sunday, September 22, 2013, at 2 p.m.

Kentucky Opera
W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre
315 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
502-584-7777


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