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La Boheme                  Opera Theatre of St. Louis, 2001

Sarah Bryan Miller - St. Louis Dispatch

The skies threatened all day, but refrained from raining on Opera Theater of St Louis’ 26th opening night Saturday; the weather was just about perfect for the traditional pre-opera picnics and post-concert drinks.

Inside the Loretto-Hilton, a winning production of Giacomo Puccini’s deservedly beloved La Boheme captivated the audience.  Conductor Federico Cortese and director Tim Ocel led a talented cast of youthful singers in a musically lovely and dramatically inspired production of this universal favorite, last seen here in1978.

One of the company’s greatest strengths is its ability to cast youthful singers who look their parts.  This cast had more than its share of fine performers, from small parts to large, and, for once, the boyish hijinks were entirely believable.  The Rodolfo was areal find: tenor Gerard Powers has good looks, ringing high notes and an affecting acting style.

His bohemian buddies—baritones Lester Lynch and Marcus DeLoach and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen—were equally well cast.  As Marcello, Lynch offered a big, rich voice; he was occasionally a little stiff, but made up for it with his thoroughly likable presence.  DeLoach, last seen here two seasons ago in The Merchant and the Pauper made the most of the relatively minor role of Schaunard both dramatically and vocally, while Ketelsen’s dark, gorgeous voice and sardonic persona made Colline a standout.

Death from consumption is always a tricky one to pull off in opera, and soprano Pamela Armstrong seemed overall a bit too healthy for Mimi.  But her voice is beautiful and her acting appealing; her moments with Rodolfo, in particular, were deeply affecting.  Yali-Marie William, as Musetta, had great attitude, fine timing and a terrific subito piano, hard to pull off on a high note.

Bass-baritone Terry Hodges provided two very different comic characters in the landlord, Benoit, and Musetta’s sugar daddy, Alcindoro, both nicely delineated. As the toy-seller Parpignol, Christopher Wilburn sang with a clear tenor through the distractions of a busy streetful of urchins.  Cary John Franklin's chorus, both adult and children, sang their brief but complicated music with accuracy and style.  Diction was generally good.  There was great news in the pit from conductor Federico Cortese, who brought real understanding, style and feeling to the score. …

Producing opera is always a challenge in the thrust-stage, storage-impaired Loretto-Hilton. Boheme, with its lyric realism, is particularly difficult, but Erhard Rom found creative solutions to its problems, with set fragments that mixed and matched to work in three very different scenes.  It was a little unsettling to see the garret rearranged for Act IV, and the large yellow moon that dominated in the first and second acts was just a bit too evocative of Salome.  Robert Perdziola's 1890’s-style costumes worked well; Christopher Akerlind's lighting cast an appropriately gentle light on the scene.

Ocel’s direction was a delight.  He drew beautifully nuanced performances from his singers, and demonstrated an eye for the small detail and movements dictated by the music.  He made the Act II crowd scene come alive with plenty to see in all corners of the stage, and proved himself much more than a traffic cop. …

Puccini’s bohemians are always welcome visitors; when Opera Theater can present them in productions this well-conceived, the company should bring them back more frequently.

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Photo: Marcus Doshi

Tim Mix / Derrek Taylor /  Matthew Burns

La Boheme


Boston Lyric Opera