‘La Bohème’ still offers lyric lessons of love and loss

Reviewed by Tony Villecco

I attended Wednesday’s final dress rehearsal (Oct. 24) of Giacomo Puccini’s operatic masterpiece La Bohème, and while there were a few kinks yet to iron out, it was beautiful and musically fulfilling. Tri-Cities Opera will present two performances this weekend with an overall strong cast. No dress rehearsal is without its challenges; at times, the orchestra overshadowed the principals, especially in ensemble. The excellent chorus was ahead of the maestro during the festive second act, and lighting cues were continuing to be adjusted. Still, all this should be worked out, and even if it isn’t, the production merits enough positives to please even the most hardcore opera lover.
The four male principals’ comedic and often touching moments together showed a real sense of camaraderie. As the lover/poet Rodolfo, Mario Eun Hwan Bae seemed somewhat tentative in his portrayal but compensated with a most beautiful and warm tenor. The famed aria “Che gelida manina,” even though transposed, was sung with great conviction and purity of tone throughout. He is clearly a tenor on the rise.
Patrick McNally as Marcello was perhaps the strongest of the other male singers with a dark and well-projected baritone, although ,when pushed, it made for a somewhat wobbly sound. Charles Hyland spelled out a very capable Schaunard with a natural and endearing stage presence. Matthew Samluk was Colline, his sympathetic but carefree compatriot.
The evening, however, belonged to newcomer Amber Daniel as the opera’s soprano heroine, the poor and sickly seamstress Mimi. A true spinto quality was evident throughout her singing in a gorgeous voice that had no trouble cutting over the orchestra. Actually, there were times she seemed a bit too healthy in her vocal portrayal to project the dying Mimi, but her talent is rock-solid. Mimi’s arias were lovely, especially the third act “Donde lieta usci.”
As Musetta, Marcello’s flirtatious and capricious lover, soprano Meghan Çakalli was excellent. Her voice appeared even stronger than in previous hearings with a new-found confidence in both her acting and stage presence.
As usual, maestro John Mario Di Costanzo has drilled his musicians well, and the orchestra played Puccini’s score with aplomb. His attention to detail was quite amazing especially when he asked the musicians’ to isolate each note in one section and really stress their importance. Because Puccini’s score relies on long lines, painfully haunting musical themes and often strong and isolated chords, it is imperative to play as an ensemble, and Di Costanzo is master of this.
Secondary roles were aptly presented by Stephen Webb as Parpignol, Michael Celentano as Alcindoro and Mickey Woyshner as Benoit. The opera chorus and particularly the children’s chorus sounded fine, adding to the wonderful chaos and color of the opera’s second act.
Some lovely costumes were coordinated by Julia Kelly from designs by Stephen Dell’Aversano. Ironically the street urchins were sometimes dressed better than some of the principals. The lovely and effective lighting by Andrew F. Griffin must be mentioned as well as Robert Little’s handsome sets.
From the soft snow falling to the warm glow of the tavern, Bohème depicts a world we can all relate to, a world filled with much beauty and joy but also a world filled with pain and unbearable sadness. Go and see this opera, and wrap yourself up in the heavenly music, remembering those moments in your life when you had similar experiences to these unforgettable Bohemians.

Performances of La Bohème will be 8 p.m. today (Oct. 26) and 3 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 28) at The Forum, 236  Washington St., Binghamton,. The box office is open 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and prior to performances and can be reached at (607) 772-0400. Tickets also can be ordered online at the TCO website, www.tricitiesopera.com. The opera will be dedicated to three recently deceased singers (Alan Crabb, Rosalie Julian and Pasquale Arcodia) and the 2012-13 season to longtime TCO supporter and board member Robert Best, who died earlier this month.

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