We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Won Whi Choi as Rodolfo, Liana Guberman as Mimi
Our trek to Brooklyn on a rainy Friday night was amply rewarded on two accounts.  For one thing, the performance of Puccini's La Bohème by Loft Opera was novel and gripping; for another, it warmed our hearts on that chilly night to see three hundred young audience members in rapt attention to the trials and tribulations of characters with whom they could identify.  When we could tear our eyes away from the action, we observed the faces of the audience members, laughing at the hijinks of the quartet of hipster/artists in Act I and later in Act IV verging on tears over Mimi's death.

This may be considered a site-specific work, staged as it was in a large chilly industrial space with makeshift lighting.  Audience members drank beer and wine and wandered through the playing area where Rodolfo was sitting at his typewriter and Marcello was painting a mural on the floor.  This clearly set the stage for the drama to follow and evoked feelings of intimacy with the singers.

The musical values were superb all around.  Conductor Dean Buck led his 21 fine musicians in a reduced score (uncredited) that made fine musical sense.  The young singers all had fine healthy voices and keen dramatic instincts.  Soprano Liana Guberman made a touching Mimi as her voice rose to dramatic heights when called for and lowered for moments of intimacy with Rodolfo, performed by the excellent tenor Won Whi Choi who showed a natural ardency of expression and fine technique.

His best bud Marcello was portrayed by the robustly voiced baritone Joshua Jeremiah whose infatuation with the fickle Musetta led to passion and jealous rage.  Musetta was given a believable characterization by Larisa Martinez whose excellent voice delivered "Quando m'en vo" with high style.

Baritone Pnini Grubner made an effective Colline; his farewell address to his overcoat is, for us, one of the highlights of the opera and of the baritone canon.  Joel Herold performed the musician Shaunard who "brings home the bacon"--apparently the only member of the quartet who can earn money.

The roles of Benoît and Alcindoro were combined and played by Paul An.  This was one of many interesting directorial concepts, some of which worked better than others.  The idea of the wealthy landlord stepping out with his tenant's girlfriend really complicates the issue of lover's rage, especially when the tenant can't pay his rent.

Between Creative Director Daniel Ellis-Ferris and Stage Director Laine Rettmer we were unsure who was responsible for the parakeet that was slaughtered but we were assured that no fauna was harmed in the production and it was just an illusion!  But that really was a huge white balloon standing in for the moon that was burst.

We are pleased to tell our readers that there will be three further opportunities to join the six hipsters onstage and to suffer through their difficult lives while listening to Puccini's gorgeous music so well played.  Tonight and next Friday and Saturday nights--if you can still get tickets.  We can guarantee you a fresh look at an old favorite and a truly bohemian experience.  We are not worried about the future of opera when we have companies like Loft Opera!

© meche kroop

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