|Act II of La Boheme at Riverside Theater
Mr. Hull changes the casting from one performance to the next but the singers are always fine. At last night's performance, one cast member was remembered from the performance we saw three years ago. The role of the painter Marcello was sung and enacted beautifully by baritone Robert Garner with soprano Cassandra Douglas wowing both the onstage "audience" at Café Momus and the audience at Riverside Theater with her over-the-top performance of an histrionic vain woman who also is the possessor of a generous heart.
As the doomed Mimi, soprano Rachel Hippert superbly conveyed a real young woman, not just a cliché. Amore regular José Heredia used his full-throated tenor to show us a Rodolfo who is love-struck in Act I and II, but in over his head by Act III and in denial in Act IV.
We are quite sure that everyone knows the story and there isn't much new to say. We perceive it as more than a tragic love story; it is also a story of "adulting", part of which is facing reality.
Four feckless young men share a garret in Paris, eking out a barely sustainable living but still full of high spirits and horseplay. We love the scene in which they "prank" their landlord and the way they attack Schaunard's bountiful Xmas basket with no interest in the amazing story of how he earned the funds to supply it.
Rodolfo is very human and acts like many people do when they face a situation with which they cannot cope; they blame someone else. He cannot face the fact that Mimi is dying and he cannot keep her warm or restore her health so he invents petty jealousies. Marcello, who cannot keep his own love life straight, is the one everyone turns to for advice. Before he knows the entire story, he counsels Mimi to separate. The fact that Mr. Garner is somewhat older than the other "bohemians" lends verisimilitude to his position as advisor.
Mimi has also been in denial about her illness until she overhears Rodolfo being forced by Marcello to reveal the reason for his bad behavior toward her. Now that the facts are on the table, Mimi and Rodolfo decide to stay together until Spring.
Because of the episodic nature of the libretto (by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa) we do not know what happened between Acts III and IV but Mimi is found wandering the streets in extreme physical distress and is brought to the garret by Musetta so she can die surrounded by beloved friends (accompanied by Puccini's most gorgeous music.) It was difficult to stanch our tears.
We in the audience know that none of the survivors will ever be the same again.
Colline was sung by bass Virdell Williams who sounded fine throughout but failed to move us to tears with "Vecchia zimarra". Colline is not just saying goodbye to his overcoat but to his youth; we wanted more poignancy.
Schaunard was sung by Charles Gray whose tale of the poisoned parsley went by so unnoticed by his greedy flatmates.
Benoît was performed by bass Gennadiy Vysotskiy, whose humor was effective. If we are not mistaken, he performed Colline three years ago.
Rick Agster, whom we just enjoyed in Scrooge, was funny as Musetta's wealthy and much put-upon "patron".
Andrew Watt played the toy vendor Parpignol who captivated all the children like the Pied Piper.
We liked the directorial touch (by Mr. Hull and Iris Karlin, who portrayed Musetta three years ago) of having the customs officials (Thomas Geib and David Owen) behaving rather passive-aggressively at the city gates toward the waiting merchants and street sweepers.
Richard Cerullo's clever sets worked well with the stage of the Riverside Theater and Cynthia's Psoras' costumes were perfect. Gone were the awful wigs of three years ago!
We hear probably 360 performances a year and we have never witnessed a more enthusiastic audience. Even the Café Momus waitress (Nyah Williams) got lavish applause which she surely deserved for putting an individual spin on the role.
Directed by Susan Morton, the chorus was excellent. Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley did his best with a rather deficient orchestra, beginning the evening with intonation problems. As the evening progressed, he pulled them together but this is the only sub-par feature of a wonderful evening.
The final performance is tonight, New Year's Eve, and we plan to see it again with a different cast. And so should you!
(c) meche kroop