Seeing the Dayton Opera La boheme today reminded me of how Puccini at age 37 succeeded in crafting a nearly perfect work of lyric drama after his first three flawed efforts: Le Villi, Edgar, and Manon Lescaut.
By age 37 Verdi had penned 16 of his three dozen operas. Mozart died at age 35 and by the time of his death he had given the world no less than five operatic masterpieces. But Puccini was painfully slow at composing, and inspiration came to him sporadically, but when it did… Well judge for yourself as you sit through yet one more La boheme. I, for one, could see that unabashedly sentimental musical yarn many times over.
That brings me to director Gary Briggle’s La boheme, which I saw and admired today. The veteran director had good help from Thomas Bankston, the Artistic Director of the Dayton Opera, who provided Briggle, first of all, with a handsome co-production designed by Robert Little, which delivered 100% on authenticity and practicality.
The cast was good, with the four bohemians young and sonorous, a pretty Mimi, a pert Musetta, and the marvelous Thomas Hammons in the double buffo assignment of Benoit/Alcindoro.
All seven principals responded to Briggle’s minute attention to details, which reminded me of Puccini’s fastidious love of le piccole cose (the little things). Mimi, for example, arrived in the bohemian’s attic and, after the initial ritual of flirtation involving the lost key and the candles – which both Rodolfo and Mimi slyly put out – she sat down to tell Rodolfo about herself.
In Giacosa and Illica’s Italian she says that people call her Mimi but her name is Lucia, that her story is brief, and that she embroiders at home and at work. At that point the Dayton Mimi, the lovely Kasia Borowiec, proffered her new acquaintance a little kerchief most likely embroidered by her. Great directorial touch that one! And, that little prop, hardly made a big deal of, returns in the subsequent acts to remind us of the bond of love it represents.
Briggle got his young cast members to react as well as act, to stay alive 100% of the time especially when not singing, and to use the silences between notes to carry meaningfulness.
Matthew Vickers was hands down the best singing actor in the cast, portraying a largely uncomplicated poet and singing with a bright lyric voice and clarion high notes. His Mimi, Kasia Borowiec sang with a full-bodied soprano voice, partnering her Rodolfo to perfection.
Of the other three bohemians, baritone Kenneth Stavert was a rock solid Marcello, bass Vincent Grana, an earnest, well sung Colline, and De’Ron McDaniel a lively Schaunard. Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez was a pretty Musetta.
Patrick Reynolds conducted an orchestra largely peopled by musicians from the Dayton Philharmonic, keeping things under control and bringing stray singers back into the fold whenever they strayed. The Dayton Opera Chorus sang and acted well, once more helping to maintain the reputation of the Dayton Opera as a worthy professional enterprise in the always-busy Southern Ohio music scene.
Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com
Photo: Duane Tinkey/Des Moines Metro Opera