uStory: Four starving artists share an apartment in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the mid-19th century. The quartet of young men -- Rodolfo the poet, the painter Marcello, philosopher Colline and Schaunard the musician – prepare to enjoy a Christmas Eve dinner courtesy of Schaunard’s recent work for a wealthy Parisian. Schaunard suggests instead that they keep the food and wine for another day and celebrate the holiday at Café Momus as his guests.
Staying behind momentarily, Rodolfo hears a young woman at the door. She says her name is Mimi, a seamstress who lives in the same apartment building and who needs her candle re-lighted. She and Rodolfo quickly strike up a romance and, although Mimi appears to be ill, venture out to Café Momus, where they join the others.
While there, a singer named Musetta arrives at the next table with her aged paramour Alcindoro. She sees her ex-lover Marcello and immediately figures out a way to dump Alcindoro and rekindle her affair with Marcello, who still loves her as well.
As the cold weather lasts into early spring, Mimi’s cough worsens. She has separated from Rodolfo, as has Musetta from Marcello. When Musetta sees the gravely ill Mimi on the street, she brings her to the bohemians’ apartment for Mimi to be briefly reunited with Rodolfo before she succumbs to consumption.
Highlights: Union Avenue Opera continues its 25th anniversary season with a stellar presentation of Puccini’s perennially popular love story, La boheme.
Other Info: Puccini’s whimsical work, light-hearted even with a tragic ending, premiered in Turin in 1896 with a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It’s been popular worldwide pretty much from the start, in large part because Puccini’s score is so melodic and enchanting.
This version by Union Avenue Opera puts intermissions between the second act and the third as well as the third and final act for a production running approximately two and a half hours. Pacing by Mark Freiman is fluid and brisk and the UAO musicians perform a spirited, consistently fine reading of the score under the sure touch of conductor Elizabeth Hastings.
Freiman’s cast succeeds both with its acting and singing responsibilities, resulting in a splendid production for the UAO audience to savor. Ukranian-born soprano Yulia Lysenko makes a strong statement in her UAO debut as the ill-fated Mimi. She shares good on-stage chemistry with Jesse Donner as the smitten poet Rodolfo, who conveys the free spirit’s lasting love for the girl in the apartment next door.
Cree Carrico impresses as the impetuous, hot-blooded Musetta, as does Andrew Wanningman as Musetta’s on-again, off-again lover Marcello. There’s solid supporting work by Nicholas Ward as Schaunard and Isaiah Musik-Ayala, in his UAO debut, as the ruminating Colline. Scott Levin shines as both the easily duped landlord Benoit and the cuckolded wealthy lover Alcindoro, with Randell McGee completing the cast as a customs agent.
Patrick Huber’s set design shrewdly incorporates his own lighting to accentuate night scenes outside the bohemians’ apartment as well as a lively setting for the Cafe Momus act. Teresa Doggett’s costumes precisely capture the look of 19th century Parisians of all economic levels and Kate Slovinski adds props which embellish sundry scenes.
It’s hard to go wrong presenting Puccini’s memorable music. In the case of Union Avenue Opera, stacking the deck with such a strong cast of singers in such likable performances makes UAO’s decision to include La boheme in its silver anniversary season a sterling cause for celebration.
Opera: La boheme
Company: Union Avenue Opera
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Blvd.
Dates: August 2, 3
Tickets: $32 to $55; contact 361-2881 or unionavenueopera.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Dan Donovan