Rachel Hippert, Maestro Richard Cordova, Jose Heredia, Dilara Unsal, Muir Ingliss, Gennady Vysotsky, Director Sabrina Palladino, and Daniel Chiu
Last night was the closing night of Amore Opera's production of Puccini's heartbreaker La Bohême. Our last exposure to Amore Opera was just before Covid, shortly after which our beloved Nathan Hull was prematurely taken from us, leaving a vacuum in leadership. The last we heard was that Amore Opera's gorgeous sets and costumes had to be sacrificed due to lack of funds to pay for storage. We never considered that the company we had enjoyed for so many years would survive those two major blows. Not only did they survive but, like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, they are thriving.
Perhaps it was some extraordinary leadership and whole-hearted determination plus moving south from the Riverside Theater to the Center at West Park that led to the packed house. It was definitely the quality of the production that led to the vociferous applause. Amore Opera is back on its feet, producing the classics in relatable fashion and with modestly priced tickets. We call "Bravi Tutti"!
La Bohême is arguably Puccini's most relatable opera. Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa fashioned an engaging libretto from stories by Henri Murger; Giacomo Puccini set the libretto to highly dramatic and melodic music that emphasizes the emotions of the characters and also describes the setting. We always listen for the dying of the fire and the water sprinkled in Mimi's face in Act I. The bustle of Paris on Christmas Eve is equally limned and the snowfall in Act III as well.
We are happy to report that Maestro Richard Cordova did not miss a beat🤦 in telling the tale with the fine orchestra he conducted. Gone were the worst intonation failures of the string section which bothered us so in former days. Favorite themes were elicited to our delight; it is largely the orchestra that creates the mood.
We are also delighted that Stage Director Sabrina Palladino presented the opera with accuracy to time and place, respecting its creators. It is very much a story of the mid 19th c. and we never thrilled to the production by NYCO that chose to set it at the start of The Great War. Just as we like it, the work spoke for itself and required no lengthy Director's Notes to tell us how to interpret it. Moreover, all the stage business was valid and served to illuminate the characters and to tell the story. Our only quibble was in Act IV, Mimi is dressed in a night dress and barefoot and she was, according to the libretto, found stumbling around in the street. Other costumes (Sara Pearson, Costume Designer) were perfectly appropriate and Musetta's costume was particularly outstanding, revealing a character who is independent and does exactly what she wants. We refer you to our Facebook page (Voce di Meche) for photos of same.
While we are discussing Musetta, let us begin with the performance of soprano Dilara Unsal who picked up the role and ran with it, scoring a victorious goal. Her voice is more than sufficient to cut through Puccini's orchestration and her technique is so secure that one is allowed to appreciate the convincing acting. We meet her in Act II when we see her bad girl side, abusing poor Alcindoro, her "admirer" and doing everything she can to get the attention of poor Marcello, her erstwhile (and future) lover. Of course, she succeeds. Casting this role requires a woman beautiful enough to be convincing and vocally strong enough to dominate the quartet.
In Act III, we see even worse behavior as she and Marcello (Muir Ingliss) bring out the worst in each other. The irony is that Marcello has just been lecturing her about not making love difficult. It is in Act IV that we get to witness the soft heart underneath the bristly exterior as she pawns her earrings to pay for a muff to satisfy Mimi's dying wish.
Mimi was portrayed by soprano Rachel Hippert who hit all the right notes both musically and dramatically. She was charmingly and shyly seductive in Act I, succeeding in getting Rodolfo to take her out for dinner whilst hinting about what might happen after dinner. In Act II, we see her in vivid contrast with the attention getting Musetta. In Act III, we see her overhearing the true reason for Rodolfo's rejection and realizing that death was not far away; the pair will make the best of a bad situation, staying together until Spring. In Act IV, we feel our heart break as she is brought to her friends' garret to die. We see the depth of her attachments and the pain of letting go. Puccini's music tells us and Ms. Hippert showed us.
As Rodolfo we heard tenor Jose Heredia in fine voice, granting us a tender but slightly boastful "Che gelida manina". He was particularly moving in Act III, at first blaming Mimi for the breakup but finally accepting responsibility for his fear of death. His acting revealed to us the major theme of the opera. It's a coming of age story in which a callow youth faces death and the loss of youthful invulnerability. The story was told so successfully that we have been pondering the fate of the other characters and what will happen to them as they outgrow their youthful self-obsession. Mimi's death will surely hasten their adulting.
The tragedy is lightened by some comic moments that were well realized. For example in Act I when baritone Daniel Chin recounts his very funny story of playing music for a parrot, his three flat-mates ignore him whilst devouring the food he has brought. (We, however, paid attention to his entertaining delivery.) The way in which the four young men manipulate their landlord is another amusing moment. In Act II, there is humor in Musetta's control over her "patron" Alcindoro. Both the landlord Benoit and Alcindoro were performed by the marvelously funny Garry Giardino. In Act III there is humor in the over-the-top name calling of the battling Marcello and Musetta.
In Act IV, there is no humor but there is poignancy in Colline's farewell to the overcoat he is about to pawn to get medicine for the dying Mimi. The role was performed by Gennady Vysotsky.
So, Dear Reader, we got exactly what we wish for--a traditional production of one of our favorite operas, sensitively directed, uniformly well-sung with excellent musical values. We wish Manhattan had a nice mid-sized theater with an orchestra pit. The Center at West Park has the orchestra seated at ground level but the action takes place on an elevated stage. This must be a challenge for the singers and the conductor but the challenge was met. The set was minimal but with such fine singing and direction, our mind's eye filled it in.
© meche kroop