Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., March 14, 2003
La Bohème: I'll Be There for You
Bass Concert Hall
Saturday, March 8
Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème is more than just a love story with a sad ending; the composer brings to life a fantastic world through his music -- gorgeous music -- and in this Austin Lyric Opera production, the audience was treated to glimpses of that fantastic world: Paris' Latin Quarter around 1870 bustling with people, ideas, love, and song. Puccini often has so much going on within the context of a musical passage that it is like stepping into a garden in full bloom, a feast for the senses. Whether it's the rundown, cold, and cluttered room of the protagonists, the highly populated cafe in Act II, or Act III's ghostly, snowy early morning at the unpopulated inn yard near the city's gates, the music, singing, and action wend their various ways, offering simultaneous aspects of the main plot, the multiple side stories, and those glimpses at life during that time in sumptuous detail, a point-counterpoint of melody, rhythm, and gorgeous, atmospheric sound.
La Bohème's main characters are young artists and intellectuals struggling to overcome their impoverished surroundings and discovering life's riches where they least expect them. The effect in ALO's staging was sort of an operatic version of the television show Friends, with clever character interplay infusing the music and song. Here were lovely young people who knew each other much too well, cracking jokes and making merry, putting up with one another's foibles, all the while supporting each other during the not-so-good times. Among the four male pals are the painter Marcello and the poet Rodolfo, who share frigid digs. Enter the lovely seamstress Mimi. She and Rodolfo fall instantly in the deepest of love. Puccini is able to create a rich garden of characters and sounds, but in the romance of these two young bohemians, the composer proves himself equally adept at the intimate moments that make opera soar. On Saturday night, soprano Oksana Krovytska and tenor Jeffrey Springer, as Mimi and Rodolfo, brought Act I to a spine-tingling conclusion. Both made excellent debuts with ALO here. Add to their fine performances that of bass Gustav Andreassen, as philosopher and friend Colline; his rich, dark voice both grounded the serious moments and added flair to the always-engaging comic ones.
Stage director Linda Brovsky kept things moving, always finding room for the details that made for a fuller picture of the characters' world. And conductor Ward Holmquist and the ALO orchestra were equally impressive with Puccini's lush score. Add to this the visual detail of Jean Pierre Ponelle's Parisian settings and fine work by the ALO choruses, and this was a strong conclusion to ALO's rather turbulent season.