OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Opera closes season with satisfying “La Boheme”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

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Los Angeles Opera’s
production of Puccini’s La Bohme

Saturday, May 12, 2012 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: May 20 and June 2 at 2 p.m.; May 23, 26
and 31 at 7:30 p.m.

Information: www.losangelesopera.com

 

60194-La Boheme.jpg

Left to right: Museop Kim (Schaunard), Artur Rucinski
(Marcello), Janai Brugger (Musetta), Stephen Costello (Rodolfo), Ailyn Perez
(Mimi) in the climactic scene of Puccini’s La
Bohme,
which opened last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a
production by Los Angeles Opera.

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Of the thousands of operas written since the genre began
half a millennia ago, only a double-handful can be counted on as sure-fire
audience pleasers (and box office winners for the company). Puccini’s
comedy-turned-tragedy La Bohme is
surely on that list, as last night’s performance by Los Angeles Opera at the
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion demonstrated anew.

 

Part of the success is due to Puccini’s compact score.
There’s barely two hours of music (the first act of Wagner’s Gtterdmerung is longer) but it’s
filled with melodious lines that tell a simple but heart-rending story using a
libretto written by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giocasa out of a story by Henry
Mrger.

 

However, not every company makes La Bohme work as well as LA Opera did last night. Much of the
success was due to a young, but wonderfully talented cast; in fact, it’s not at
all a stretch to imagine that in the coming decades those who make the trip to
downtown Los Angeles during the next three weeks will look back and say, “I
remember when we saw … ” Not only did they look the part of the young Bohemian
artists struggling to survive in Paris (not always a given for Bohme casts) but they sang strongly and
brought the various parts to life, as it were, expertly, as well.

 

This was the sixth time in its 26-year-history that LA Opera
has mounted this production, originally conceived by the late film director
Herbert Ross. It remains a realistic, picturesque framework that falls in the
“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mode. Gregory Fortner, a director as young as
his cast, brought several nice touches to his concept, and kept the action
moving along smartly. The atmospheric costumes were originally designed by
Peter J. Hall and augmented by Jeannique Prospere, and Daniel Ordowner supplied
sensitive, effective lighting.

 

Nonetheless, La Bohme
ultimately stands or falls on its cast and this one was uniformly
excellent, another example of LA Opera’s ability to cast well-matched, talented
ensembles that has been the case for all of its productions in at least the
past three seasons.

 

The headliners, Stephen Costello and Ailyn Prez, as the
poet Rodolfo and his consumption-wracked neighbor, Mim, are husband and wife
in real life but one would hope that their sensitive characterizations were due
more to their talent than their marital relationship. Each displayed rich,
gleaming voices that carried easily over the 69-member LA Opera Orchestra,
which was led with sensitivity by Patrick Summers, artistic and music director
of Houston Grand Opera and principal guest conductor of San Francisco Opera,
who like director Fortner was making his LAO debut.

 

The supporting characters of Marcello and Musetta often
steal the show in La Bohme productions
and that would have been the case last night had it not been for the excellence
of Costello and Prez. Artur Rucinski was a bright, playful Marcello and Janai
Brugger — one of three members of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artists program in
the cast — was a saucy Musetta who displayed a lustrous soprano voice that
showed why she was a winner of this year’s Metropolitan Opera Young Artists
Competition.

 

Other members of the ensemble were Robert Pomakov, Colline;
Museop Kim, Schaunard; and Philip Cokorinos doubling as Benoit and Alcindro.
Ben Bliss as Papignol led the way in the colorful second act II Caf Momus
scene, with members of the Los Angeles Opera Chorus and Los Angeles Children’s
Chorus joining in strong as the choral ensemble.  Peggy Hickey supplied the choreography.

 

Whether you’ve seen dozens of productions of La Bohme or you’ve never experienced
its emotional roller coaster, this is a production worth seeing, and a fine
conclusion to a first-rate season for Los Angeles Opera.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Including an intermission between acts II and III, the
entire evening ran 2:30 in length.

Mitchell Morris, a professor of music and musicology at
UCLA, delivered the preconcert lecture; his obvious love the La Bohme was infectious.

Another Domingo-Thornton member, Valentina Fleet, will
replace Brugger in the role of Musetta for the final three performances.

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(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.