Play: La boheme
Group: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Venue: Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
Dates: June 4, 6, 10, 12, 14, 17, 20, 27
Tickets: From $25 to $117 (additionally, ticket stubs for Rent at The Fox or La boheme are good for $10 discounts for the other show); contact 314-961-0644 or HYPERLINK "http://www.experienceopera.org" www.experienceopera.org
Story: Rodolfo, a writer, shares cramped living quarters in Paris with a trio of comrades comprised of the artist Marcello, the philosopher Colline and a musician, Schaunard. Destitute, they rejoice when Schaunard arrives on Christmas Eve with money and firewood from a job he’s procured, and decide to celebrate at the Café Momus. Staying briefly behind to finish a newspaper article, Rodolfo is interrupted when a stranger, Mimi, knocks on his door and asks for help to relight her candle.
The infatuated Rodolfo brings Mimi to the Café Momus, where Marcello meets his estranged lover, Musetta, who’s in the company of a buffoonish government official. Marcello eventually renews his tempestuous relationship with Musetta, while Rodolfo later reveals to Marcello his own illogical rages that result when Rodolfo is frustrated by his inability to care for the terminally ill Mimi, with tragic consequences.
Highlights: One of the most enduring pieces in Western culture, this four-act opera by Giacomo Puccini was first performed in Turin, Italy in 1896, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Puccini based his work on a novel by Henri Murger titled Scenes de la vie de boheme, with a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. This production marks the fourth Mainstage version by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in addition to a regional touring production.
Despite its four acts, this 2009 OTSL season opener is an engaging and pleasantly paced rendition under the guidance of stage director Tim Ocel, who keeps the focus clear and uncluttered in a simple and straightforward telling of the classic love story. Puccini’s music is given a spirited and clean interpretation by conductor Ari Pelto and members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, and the singing is top-notch throughout.
Other Info: Although soprano Alyson Cambridge, a former Gerdine Young Artist, apparently was victimized by notorious St. Louis allergies, her opening night performance was marvelous, impeded only occasionally by some faltering in the upper registers. She was complemented by the lusty baritone bravado of Timothy Mix, another former Gerdine Young Artist, as Marcello. Tenor Derek Taylor, making his OTSL debut, brought a nice touch to Rodolfo, although his voice was a bit too soft at times. Eugene Chan, also in his initial OTSL performance, capably utilized his baritone to good advantage as the free-spirited musician, Schaunard, and Stephen Humes’ bass added solid underpinning as the philosopher Colline.
Amanda Majeski was a delight as the flamboyant Musetta, adding solid comic abilities to her fine soprano efforts, while Matthew Lau, in his debut OTSL performance (as is Majeski), was delightful in a pair of small comic turns as a lecherous landlord and thick-witted bureaucrat. Joshua Lindsay, James Ivey and Aubrey Allicock provide fine support in minor roles.
Erhard Rom’s set design is based on a series of 19th century photographs by Charles Marville and captures the essence of both the poverty of Paris and the raucous din of its nightlife with looming backdrop panels which vary slightly with the seasons represented. Rom’s costumes, coordinated by Pat Seyller, and Tom Watson’s wig and makeup design are highlighted in the lively second act in a crowded Montmartre square, while Robert Denton’s lighting is shrewdly accentuated in the initial, dimly illuminated meeting between Mimi and Rodolfo.
La boheme, as evidenced by the popularity of its 20th century descendant, the Broadway musical Rent, has been a popular force for more than a century. This OTSL production solidly demonstrates why.
Rating: A 4.0 on a scale of 1-to-5.