Seattle Opera Review 2021-22: La Bohème

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(Photo credit: Sunny Martini)

Immense goodwill was palpable throughout the theater on the opening night of the Seattle Opera’s first fully staged live production in 18 months, Puccini’s “La Bohème”. The company deftly produced its full 2020-21 subscription season to stream online during the pandemic, so it’s clear everyone was excited to be back in the theater in person.

The halls of Seattle’s Opera House, the beautifully appointed McCaw Hall, were bustling with masked (and fully vaccinated) members of the audience greeting each other after a long separation and anticipating the thrill of seeing the live opera take them away. collectively. The theater’s main curtain, a scarlet red velvet with a handful of red sequins sprinkled over its panels to subtly catch the light as it gently swaying, has never been more magical.

Stick to tradition

The choice of “La Bohème” for the reopening was logical: it is a darling of the public with a young and playful cast, music full of energy and romanticism, and sets that transport us to another time and another. place. Darker themes relevant to 2021 were there – artists struggling with poverty, a tragic death from infectious lung disease – but there was no attempt to specifically highlight them in this presentation. The staging was conventional with traditional period costumes and sets, and tended towards the predictable; I don’t remember a moment when the scenic activity delighted me by shedding light on a new facet of the plot or the relationships between the characters.

The sets were originally designed by Ercole Sormani in 1965 (they were probably newer recreations or significantly restored as they looked quite fresh). The scenes in Act 2 in front of Cafe Momus in the Latin Quarter of Paris and the snow-capped tollhouse and tavern in Act 3 were visually stunning with spatial depth and a sense of atmosphere, evocatively lit by Chad R. Jung.

But the artists’ attic in the first and last act was disappointing – illogically over the top for hungry performers and one-dimensional with just a painted backdrop suggesting a false staircase and balcony. In addition, more effort should be made with details defined to create a stronger sense of life existing outside of the landscape: for example, when the tavern door opened in act three, there was no There was only virgin scenic muslin – no walls, no furniture, no people, no life.

The boys’ bohemian club

All of the main singers sang well and as a team they had a young and original chemistry. In his home debut, Yosep Kang gave us a brash and slightly awkward Rodolfo. This poet was quick to his emotions, but not a deep and complex man. His brilliant tenor had a laser beam upper register – his several cries of “Mimi, Mimi!” were full of penetrating emotion. It was less effective at straddling and tapering the swells of lyricism that are at the heart of Puccini’s score and the key to evoking the soul of this conflicting poet. More advice from conductor Joseph Colaneri on Kang’s phrasing and the use of rubato would have helped elevate Kang’s performance and bring out the nuances of Italian style that permeate the score.

John Moore, as brilliant as Seattle’s recent Eugene Onegin, was a cheeky, big-hearted Marcello. His well-balanced and sultry baritone elevated the music and his authentic acting made Marcello’s many behavioral changes believable, credibly jumping from silly antics with his buddies, to fiery jealousy around Musetta, to the empathy for Mimi and Rodolfo. With more performances under their belt, the gorgeous duo of Kang and Moore in act four, where they wistfully contemplate their absent lovers, should find more blend and synchronicity.

To complete this circle of gypsies, Ashraf Sewailam in charming and slightly cheesy Hill and Eugene Villanueva in suave Schaunard, full of bravado. The two sang well and contributed unique ingredients to the recipe that makes this rag gang so interesting.

Yosep Kang as Rodolfo, Karen Vuong as Mimi (Photo credit: Sunny Marini)

Grace personified

Karen Vuong was a wise but optimistic Mimi. It was a plus that she didn’t telegraph the end of the opera early on, instead letting her illness become more evident and severe over time and giving her character a compelling arc. Vuong has an attractive, soft-grained soprano with a slightly rotating vibrato that suited the intimate moments of Mimi’s music perfectly.

Her opening tune “Mi chiamano Mimi” was gracefully worded, “Addio senza rancor” in act three was elegantly bittersweet, and her final death scene was beautifully vocalized in muted but clear tones, without unnecessary layers of color. ‘voice assignments. In emotional climaxes, however – for example, the duets with Rodolfo and Marcello in act three – additional levels of power and tonal richness were lacking; the high notes were there and appealing, but lacked the more grandiose overtones that make them both musical and emotional peaks (and tingling moments for the audience).

It’s rare to cast a mezzo-soprano in the role of Musetta, but with Ginger Costa-Jackson, that choice worked well and highlighted new sides of the character. She looked fabulous in Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes and behaved like an “It Girl” from the Belle Époque. As a mezzo, she naturally offered a welcome vocal contrast to Mimi de Vuong’s light lyrical voice and allayed the fears of this stereotypical, shrill maid version of the character.

The vocal range was not a problem: Costa-Jackson had the trebles for his famous waltz, and even extended the latter with a soft diminuendo as if to say: “Take that, sopranos!” The biggest advantage of the choice of cast, and to Costa-Jackson’s credit, was the way her lower voice conveyed the deep sincerity of Musetta’s feelings about Mimi’s suffering in act four.

Ginger Costa-Jackson as Musetta, John Moore as Marcello (Photo credit: Sunny Martini)

Although the orchestra and choir were downsized (the children’s choir and the Parpignol section were removed from the second act), presumably due to budget constraints stemming from the pandemic, everything seemed full and confident. The conductor Joseph Colaneri approached the work in a fairly direct way, perhaps a little too much. Some of the score’s best effects come from the way Puccini swiftly moves from pattern to pattern, weaving, growing, and contrasting with themselves. In Colaneri’s hands, some of these transitions didn’t register completely and the more lush melodies felt a bit diminished by the lack of room to breathe and expand, although its crispness was admirable.

What developed was that the hearts and souls of Seattle opera lovers were once again touched by the resonance they can only find by hearing opera voices and classical musicians. in person. It’s great to be back!


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