|Thomas Muraco and cast of La Bohème at Manhattan School of Music|
Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème is arguably the favorite opera of many; however, some opera lovers of our acquaintance refuse to see it unless there is a notable debut in one of the roles at The Metropolitan Opera. Indeed, the Zeffirelli production is spectacular and astonishingly realistic and also tends to overwhelm the story and the singers. Not so the production we enjoyed last night at the Manhattan School of Music.
Conductor Thomas Muraco guided his Opera Repertoire Ensemble through an intimate and involving production; he clearly loves this music and his young artists, most of whom are graduate students working on their Master's Degree. If great sums of money were not lavished on the production, compensation was in the form of attention to detail and the achievement of intimacy. The emotional intensity built slowly from the first act--all horseplay and romance--to the last, which left us in tears. Such involvement is worth more than fancy sets. What more do we want from opera than to be transported to another century, another country, another life?
In this case, we are in late 19th c. Paris in the world of starving artists and the women who love them. Tuberculosis is running rampant and would claim the life of Mimi by the final act, forever altering the lives of these carefree young people. We are made to think of the late AIDS crisis which claimed so many young lives.
The orchestra was supplanted by two pianos, four hands, belonging to Jeremy Chan and Dura Jun with Yeon Hwa Chung's harp making significant contributions. Mr. Muraco himself did the orchestration and we were able to hear strands of melody and motives that have gone unnoticed when hearing a full orchestra.
The singing and acting were equally impressive. No director was credited and we were given to understand that the young artists came up with the stage business themselves. Perhaps that was why we found the storytelling to be so effective. Who knows youth better than the young? Witness the horseplay in Act I and Act IV.
In Bryn Holdsworth we met a slightly different Mimi--not quite as innocent as other Mimi's we have seen. She used her lovely expressive soprano and her highly expressive face and gesture to show us a young woman a bit desperate for her next meal, a bit sly in her seductiveness, a bit manipulative--but also capable of deep love for Rodolfo. It was a stellar performance, given her fine phrasing and just right vibrato. We couldn't take our eyes off her as she eavesdropped on the duet between Rodolfo and Marcello in Act III as she= is being confronted with the loss of her own life.
Brian Michael Moore made an ardent Rodolfo and his inability to accept Mimi's death at the end arose from a deep understanding of the character. He knows she is dying by Act III but he doesn't really let it register. He is living in denial. His fine tenor faltered a bit in Act I, probably a consequence of pushing for volume at the top of his register, but he settled in nicely for the rest of the performance.
Young Kwang Yoo's pleasing baritone was just right for the lovesick Marcello. He's the one the two lovers consult (separately) when their romance is in trouble; he reacts just the way a young man would. And then, just as a young man would, he behaves in a manner contradictory to his advice. His duet with Mimi was just gorgeous.
As Musetta, his love interest, soprano Yun Melody Xie played the part to the hilt, much to the audience's delight. Her bright instrument and expressive body conveyed everything we needed to know about this survivor who uses every tool at her disposal to get by. Her Act II aria "Quando me'n vo" was spectacular and so was her red gown. We loved the way she tormented her elderly date Alcindoro (Stefano de Peppo) who also played the part of Benoit the landlord in Act I. What a handful!!!
The delights of Act I involved not only Rodolfo and Marcello but also Colline the philosopher and Schaunard the musician. Schaunard (excellent baritone Juan Daniel Melo) tells his hilarious tale of poisoning the parrot and the three "bohemians" sit around the table devouring the provisions he has supplied owing to his latest job. His fine baritone went unnoticed by his flatmates but not by us.
Joshua Arky used his bass voice well in his portrayal of Colline. The horseplay from Act I has been recapitulated in Act IV but the tone is rapidly changed when the dying Mimi is carried upstairs. Everyone is sacrificing something and he is pawning his "Vecchia zimarra". Clearly, he is saying goodbye to his innocent youth, not just his old overcoat.
Similarly when Musetta is praying for Mimi, her candle goes out just about the time Mimi expires. Witnessing the story in a small space, up close and personal, provides many such precious moments that we will recall the next time we see the opera. Unlike some of our friends, we hope that won't be too far in the future and we won't need to wait for a big debut at the Met.