Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Opera's 'La Boheme' Captures Spirit of Novel

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Opera's 'La Boheme' Captures Spirit of Novel

Article excerpt

Henri Murger's "Scenes de la vie de boheme," the basis for Puccini's opera "La boheme," was a novel about the joys and sorrows of young people in the Paris of 1851.

The Pittsburgh Opera staging by Stephanie Havey, which opened Saturday evening at the Benedum Center, captures the spirit of that novel remarkably well. The lithe and supple cast, though not in fact particularly young, looks and acts like young people -students and aspiring artists -just barely keeping the wolf from their door.

The protagonists move well onstage and interact convincingly. Verbal values come across clearly and credibly. Michael Yeargan's attractive and interesting sets enhance the atmosphere, notably in the panels that depict the outside of the building in Acts 1 and 4, then open separately to show the garret; and in the way the Café Momus scene morphs almost imperceptibly from outdoors to indoors.

There's a price to pay for all this realism, however. Don't expect the singing to be in the grand opera manner of Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti. The voices here are smaller, the phrases less sweeping, the atmosphere more intimate. Except for the arias of Mimi (soprano Nicole Cabell) and Rodolfo (tenor Sean Panikkar), "La boheme" is essentially an ensemble opera, and the ensemble work onstage was entirely commendable. That precision did not, however, extend to the orchestra, whose playing was below its usual standards - intonationally unreliable and not consistently in sync - under guest conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud.

The ensemble scenes came off best: the antics of the four Bohemians at the start of the first and fourth acts; the Christmas Eve revelry at Café Momus (with excellent choral work prepared by Mark Trawka); the Act 3 quartet in which one couple separates while the other reunites. Among the solos, Mimi's arias, deliciously vocalized by Ms. …

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