Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Portland Opera's La Bohème gets lively and solid treatment by young cast

Liverman, Lucà, Isiguen, Zaremba, and Thorn | photo credit Cory Weaver
There’s nothing like young artists portraying young artists and that was one of the most appealing aspects of Portland Opera’s production of Puccini’s “La Bohème” on opening night (May 5) at Keller Auditorium. The cast of young professionals thoroughly embraced their roles as impoverished yet carefree denizens of the Latin Quarter of early Nineteenth Century Paris. That included impressive singing by Italian tenor Giordano Lucà, who made his American operatic debut as the poet Rodolfo, and American soprano Vanessa Isiguen as the seamstress Mimi. Directed by Kathleen Belcher, a longtime member of the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera, the entire ensemble worked well together to create a straightforward and lively retelling of one of the most popular operas in the repertoire.
Isiguen and Lucà | photo credit Cory Weaver
Lucà filled the house with his refulgent voice. His singing of “Che gelida manima” was a highlight of the evening and elicited thunderous applause. Isiguen poured out the soul of Mimi with a warm, rich soprano. Her “Si, Mi chiamano Mimi” was touching and heartfelt and also drew ecstatic applause. Yet, in spite of their delicious voices, Lucà and Isiguen didn’t quite mesh convincingly as passionate lovers.
Zaremba, Lucà, Thorn , Guidi, and Liverman | photo credit Cory Weaver
Will Liverman was thoroughly convincing as the hot-headed painter Marcello and Jennifer Forni had a field day as Marcell’s impulsive, mercurial lover Musetta. Forni’s enticing, show-stopping performance of “Musetta’s Waltz” was another highlight of the production.
Forni | photo credit Cory Weaver
Rodolfo and his roommates had a great time with the light-hearted scenes, clowning around with an excellent sense of comic timing. Ryan Thorn’s animated Schaunard added an extra level of energy that was athletic at times. Christian Zaremba fashioned a good-natured Colline, and his somber farewell to his old coat (“Vecchia zimmarra”) elicited a warm response from the audience.

Deac Guidi excelled in the role of the Benoit, turning him from a crotchety landlord into a lovable and laughable buffoon. Damien Geter created a clueless and infatuated Alcindoro. Aaron Short spread a bright layer of joy as Parpignol, the toy vendor. Gregory Brumfield as the Custom House Officer and Anders Tobiason as the Sergeant showed the requisite gruffness for their characters.

Effective lighting by York Kennedy accented the huge painted backdrops provided by Seattle Opera evoked the Paris of the Nineteenth Century. They were complimented well by traditional costumes that were designed by Susan Memmott Allred for the Utah Symphony and Opera.

The street scene in front of Café Momus offered a swirl of colorful activity with the Portland Opera Chorus, a charming children’s chorus, and a small marching band taking turns in the spotlight.

Conductor George Manahan chose to keep the tempos brisk but was very attentive to any singer who wanted linger over a phrase. Here and there the orchestra got a tad too loud for the singers – with the exception of Liverman whose expressive and resilient baritone was stellar throughout the performance.

Attendance at the Keller seemed to be a little down, which was dismaying since “La Bohème” is one of the best-loved operas ever written. Perhaps word about the fine singing will inspire more to come hear the final two performances on May 11 and 13.
Photo credit Cory Weaver

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