On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.
Since the partially constructed Eiffel Tower can be seen in the background, the time of the action is set between 1887 and 1889. Attractive costumes by Peter J. Hall and Jeannique Prospere also set the time and place.
In Act I, the occupants of a rooftop apartment: Operalia winning tenor Mario Chang as Rodolfo, the writer, baritones Giorgio Caduro and Kihun Yoon as Marcello, the painter and Schaunard, the musician, along with bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee as Colline the philosopher, cavorted like college students. After Yoon’s warm-voiced rendition of Schaunard’s story, all four residents proceeded to enjoy the food he bought with the money he earned taking care of an ill-fated parrot. When he was alone in the garret, Rodolfo opened the door to Mimi, sung by Olga Busuioc. He started off with polished tones and her presence was magical. She had a sweet sounding middle register that was easy on the ear and her top notes bloomed like roses.
Kazaras’s second act was a Christmas Eve spectacular topped off by a comedic skit featuring the narcissistic Musetta. As the latter, Operalia winner Amanda Woodbury arrived in a horseless carriage from which she alighted in the utmost of 1880s finery to sing her Waltz Song with great tonal beauty and graceful phrasing. Philip Cokorinos, who had been amusing as Benoit, the landlord, was equally interesting as Alcindoro, Musetta’s long suffering sugar daddy. As Marcello, stentorian voiced Giorgio Caduro also suffered considerable indignity as Musetta made obvious advances to him right in front of Alcindoro. The chorus, including children, the stage banda, and many supernumeraries combined to show the California audience that Los Angeles can put on as grand a show as any opera company in the world.
In Act III, Marcello began arguing with Musetta and she joined him in a name-calling contest. At the same time, Mimì had come through the snow looking for Rodolfo. Busuioc and Chang sang an exquisite duet and, at its end, the soprano sang a most moving “Addio senza rancor.” Act IV brought the audience back to the men’s garret. Musetta brought the physically failing Mimì to the rooftop where she lay on a chaise in the open air while her friends tried to get her medical help. As Colline, Nicholas Brownlee sang his Overcoat Aria with burnished bronze tones and Musetta, having reformed her character, sells her earrings to pay Mimì’s medical bill. Chang’s acting was outstanding as his Rodolfo showed how much he loved the woman whose illness frightened him.
Conductor Speranza Scappucci, who had been giving a highly detailed rendition of the score, was at her best in Act IV. Words could never express the emotion that her orchestra encompassed at Mimì’s quiet death. Throughout the opera, Scappucci offered a luminous and often translucent accompaniment that showed the composer’s mastery of the art of orchestration and her ability as a conductor to weave his many threads into a complete whole. This was a truly fine performance of Puccini’s score that should be remembered for a long time
Cast and production details:
Marcello, Giorgio Caduro; Rodolfo, Mario Chang; Colline, Nicholas Brownlee; Schaunard, Kihun Yoon; Benoit and Alcindoro, Philip Cokorinos; Mimì, Olga Busuioc; Prune Vendor, John Kimberling; Parpignol, Arnold Livingston Geis; Musetta, Amanda Woodbury; Customs House Officer, Gregory Geiger; Sergeant, Reid Bruton; Conductor, Speranza Scappucci; Original Production, Herbert Ross; Stage Director, Peter Kazaras; Set Designer, Gerard Howland; Costume Designer, Peter J. Hall; Additional Costumes, Jeannique Prospere; Lighting Designer, Duane Schuler; Original Choreography, Peggy Hickey; Recreated by John Todd; Chorus Director, Grant Gershon; Children’s Chorus Director, Anne Tomlinson; Supertitles, David Anglin.
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