Sunday, September 27, 2009

Portland Opera dishes up wonderful La Bohème

A terrific set of young singers energized Portland Opera’s production of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” which opened on Friday night at Keller Auditorium. The opera, which tells the lives of four poverty-stricken ex-students and their friends in Paris around 1830, received exceptional performances by the principals, with Kelly Kaduce leading the way.

Kaduce created a superb Mimi, the young seamstress who has tuberculosis. Kaduce’s soprano could soar and lift an ocean of hope with its warmth. Her final aria had a sense of fragility that was memorable. This Mimi, however, was less hesitant about falling in love, and that may have taken away some of the vulnerability in her character.

In the role of the penniless poet, Rodolpho, Arturo Chacón-Cruz’s voice showed urgency and passion. His top notes added thrill to the mix. The scene on the outskirts of Paris in which he revealed his anguish over Mimi’s condition was outstanding because of his singing and acting.

Michael Todd Simpson embodied the frustration of the painter Marcello. Storming around the stage with his hands in his pockets, Marcello couldn’t control his lover Musetta, whose flirtatious nature was wonderfully sung by Alyson Cambridge.

Gustav Andreassen’s robust bass voice had plenty of depth for the philosopher Colline. José Rubio’s conveyed the musician Schaunard with élan. Ryan Allen willfully subjected himself to humorous abuse as the landlord Benoit and as the councilor of the state Alcindoro.

Effective stage directions by Sandra Bernhard enhanced the story which frequently juxtaposed the comic side of life with the tragic. The light-hearted tomfoolery of the Bohemians generated laughter from the entire audience, and the scenes that revealed the love of Rodopho and Mimi were touching. More problematic for the principals, except Kaduce, was when they sang from midway to the back of the stage area. Their voices got over the orchestra but just enough.

The big chorus scene at Café Momus generated lots of excitement. The orchestra, under Antonello Allemandi played better than ever. Allemandi showed a wonderful sense of understanding the singers. He seemed to be completely in sync with the singers and made sure that the orchestra was exactly with them.

The opera opened and closed in the spacious, yet sparsely furnished, atelier of the Rodolpho and his buddies. The huge windows of the atelier looked upwards to a sky whose heart was bleak and mottled gray. The scene at Café Momus with its splashy advertisements provided a nice contrast, and the scene at a tollgate outside Paris evoked a chilly, snowy winter morning. The scenery and sets came from the San Diego Opera and the costumes, which were traditional, were created by Seattle Opera.

Portland Opera's "La Bohème" repeats today (matinee) and Thursday, October 1 and Saturday, October 3. There are probably very few tickets available, but this is a great production; so you should see it.


S.Llewellyn said...

I wholly agree with you about Mimi and the lack of vulnerability in this production but I am sure that was by design. Here she is shown to be, in a sense, manipulative from the very start when we see her blow out her candle before knocking on Rodolfo's door. One suspects she had waited for the others to leave before presenting herself there. She tends to be portrayed as a sweet innocent who embroiders flowers and prays a lot but actually she is every bit the street girl that Violetta was in La Traviata. I think that explains the first line of her famous aria 'Mi chiamamo Mimi" - she says they call her Mimi but her name really is Lucia. Mimi, doubtless, is her professional name. She is the archetypal hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold.

I rather like this approach to her characterisation as it makes her more real for me and adds to the complexity of her persona.

Just sayin' James ;)

James Bash said...

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for your note. From where I was sitting, I couldn't see her blow out the candle, but I kind of suspected that she did.

James Bash said...

Yet, why would a young woman who falls in love give her beau her street-walker name? I mean, if Mimi really does love Rodolpho then she would've given him her real name.

S.Llewellyn said...

Oh, I don't for a moment think that at that stage Mimi loves Rodolfo. She is using him. Her target might just as easily have been Marcello or either of the others. Once she sees how smitten Rodolfo becomes and how he doubtless tries to satisfy her every whim, then she falls in love with him. But it's a love born of need.