Entertainment » Theatre

La Boheme

by Erin Dahlgren
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jul 5, 2016
La Boheme

Being classically and Musical Theater trained, I'll be the first to admit that Opera is not entirely my area of expertise, however my husband has long been a huge Opera fan, and we were thrilled at the thought of seeing one of his all time favorites, Puccini's "La Boheme" as part of the Miami Music Festival 2016 Summer Program.

Composed in 1895 by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosaby, "La Boheme" is long considered to be one of the greatest and most popular operas, depicting a group of young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1830's. We follow the story of two young lovers, Mimi, a seamstress, and Rodolfo, a poet, who meet one cold winter's evening, fall immediately in love, and the subsequent relationship challenges they face as Rodolfo struggles with his feelings of jealousy and inadequacy in the relationship, and as Mimi falls unwell, growing weaker and sicker as they battle to keep their love alive.

Billed as "a great introduction for new opera-goers," MMF's staging of the accessible and emotionally driven drama is exactly that, having been given a modern twist, with set design and costumes seemingly inspired by the 1994 musical "RENT" which, in turn, was loosely based on Puccini's "La Boheme" so the parallels are there to begin with.

Throughout the four short acts, the Italian lyrics were shown translated to English above the proscenium arch, a helpful way of following the often complex story. To those familiar with the libretto, however, the performers' passionate exchanges were easy enough to understand. Also, the energetic direction from director Jennifer Williams occasionally left me reminded of film director Baz Luhrmann and the 1996 film "Romeo and Juliet," in that they are both hugely successful modern adaptations of a timeless masterpiece. Incidentally, Luhrmann has also produced a modernized "La Boheme" for Opera Australia in 1990 which transferred to Broadway in 2002 to critical acclaim, neither of which I have been fortunate enough to witness.

Set design by Yuki Izumihara was simplistic and extremely effective, featuring clean and modern IKEA style furniture and a tall ladder as the central focus. Hanging directly behind are four opaque scrims, literally offering a blank canvas on which various images are projected. Designed by Yee Eun Nam, it depicted everything from abstract paintings, to flames, to red wine sloshing into a glass, each appropriate to the plot and allowing an efficient way of communicating sensations to an audience that may not always rely on language as a way of interpreting the plot. The clean, white lines continue in Act Three, with a large, white barren tree dominating the set, and a gentle snowflake projection departing a calm that contrasted with the intense and moving scenes onstage.

The cast, fresh-faced and youthful, was stupendous, creating a chemistry and cohesive atmosphere seen in those who have truly been friends for years, and which you rarely see onstage. In particular, the four young men that open the show with their boisterous jostling and gentle teasing contained such talent amongst them, each showing off their considerable vocal talent as soloists throughout the evening, yet the balance that existed as an ensemble was admirable with no one competing for attention.

Schaunard, a musician played by Jose Cuartas, was particularly captivating, his voice resonant and his intentions clear throughout his lyrics. Cory McGee's Colline, the philosopher, provided the bass vocals but didn't come into his own until Act Four, with his reaction to Mimi's situation in "Vecchia zimarra," which I found compelling and sincere.

Rodolfo, played by Andrés Peñalver, displayed a wonderful tenor range, and his commitment to the role and Rodolfo's immense love for Mimi was absolute, authentic and full to the brim with emotion, although at times his vocals felt slightly strained, and his projection occasionally got lost amongst the swells of the orchestra and other singers, especially in the first and second acts. The third and fourth acts saw some spectacular moments, however, and his voice was never more stunning and compelling than in his grief during the heartbreaking final moments.

Marcello, the cad of the group and Rodolfo's painter roommate, is a more complex character, all facets of which were presented charmingly by baritone Anthony Potts along with strong vocals that stood out in Act 3 in "O buon Marcello, aiuto!" with Mimi and in Act 4 with Rodolpho in the anguished "O Mimì, tu più non torni."

The absurdly talented Betsy Diaz impeccably sang the female lead Mimi, kicking Opera ass in an intimidating pair of fierce black boots and holding the audience in the palm of her hand from start to finish. Her strong soprano voice navigated the libretto with ease and control, and the sweetness of her character propelled every note.

In contrast, impressive soprano vocalist Jordan Stadvec's portrayal of Musetta, the Kardashian of "La Boheme" commanded attention and radiated power over those around her with confidence and charisma -- an essential skill in Act Two, with the addition of the delightful Doral Conservatory Children's Choir and MMF Opera Institute chorus members filling the marketplace scene and creating lots of lively scenarios.

With a large orchestra conducted by MMF Founder and Artistic Director Michael Rossi that brought to life each swell and cadence, found breath in every nuance of the beautiful yet simple, unassertive score, and restraint in a way that allowed the singers to truly shine, "La Boheme" offered a fantastic opening weekend performance for the Miami Music Festival. With talent like this and a variety of diverse performances on the program, I'm certain they will continue to impress audiences all summer long.

The 2016 Season Miami Music Festival runs through July 31 at various locations. For information or tickets, call 1-800-838-3006 or visit www.miamimusicfestival.com

Having spent her childhood in Australia pretending to be Olivia Newton-John in Grease, it was inevitable that Erin would eventually run away from home and end up working in Entertainment. After completing studies at the Victorian College of the Arts in Musical Theater, Erin enjoyed working in Film, Television and Theater in London's West End before relocating to South Florida where she juggles motherhood, working in Real Estate, pregnancy hormones and being a trophy wife.


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