Viva La Vie Bohème! One of the classic lines shouted out in Broadway’s Rent. But before the Bohemian lifestyle became a trendy Tony Award-winning musical, it started as a dark and tragic tale of love and death in Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème. Presented by Lyric Opera Baltimore and Directed by Bernard Uzan, this aural ambrosia will stream the deeply passionate emotions of love and loss right to your ear; bringing tears to your eyes at the conclusion of the performance.
The impoverished four; Marcello the painter, Rodolfo the poet, Colline the philosopher, and Schaunard the musician share a derelict garret in the Latin Quarter of Paris. The story takes place on Christmas Eve in 1830. Following the four as they head out to feast and the loves of Mimi and Musetta that befall Rodolfo and Marcello respectively, this incredible opera is an emotionally provocative sensation; proving the depths of talent that the Opera Baltimore in conjunction with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has to offer.
Maestro Steven White wrings every ounce of emotion from Puccini’s impassioned score; radiating wave after wave of deep-seeded pathos out into the audience. The balance with which he executes the orchestra is perfection incarnate – knowing exactly when to let the music guide the emotions of the on-stage events, and when to simmer quietly as the undertones highlighting the singer’s arias. Every moment of importance is accentuated with a swell of feeling from the orchestra pit. The bright shiny brass section welcomes in the jovial spirits of Christmas Even out in the streets of the Latin Quarter of Paris to start Act II, while the somber tones of the entire orchestra echo the tragic ending to this beautiful story of love. White is a superb conductor that affords the audience the most they could hope for from the talented players of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Set Designer Peter Dean Beck takes us back to 1830 in poverty with tones of gray and gloom throughout the lavish set pieces that fill the massive stage. Even Café Momus, despite the merriment made within, reflects the more sullen atmospheres of the harder times. The grandiose set pieces – from the enormity of the garret’s interior to the intricately detailed exterior of the tavern – bring this larger than life story to a swinging full liveliness that encapsulates Beck’s ideas of Paris in the early 19th century.
The voices of the six principle performers are sheer operatic perfection. The relationships they build on the stage using their voices to do are breathtaking. The passion, the love, the hatred, the brotherhood and friendship that are roused in these numbers leave you thoroughly moved by the plight and strife of living the Bohemian lifestyle. Having impeccable timing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, each moment upon the stage is lively and full of vigor; a true tenacity exposed for all to hear.
Right from the opening number the audience is given a strong sense of brotherhood between Rodolfo (Georgy Vasiliev) and Marcello (Timothy Mix). The pair have powerful voices as they jokingly lament the woes of their freezing garret and how their lives in poverty have made them miserable. Enter Colline (Christopher Job) and Schaunard (Eric Greene) two jovial and equally as entangled men of the friendship. Together the quartet bring beautiful harmonies during the opening number.
Mix’s beautiful baritone voice combined with his compelling presence upon the stage makes his story a gripping one; something to behold. While his own personal stake in the show doesn’t arrive until Act II, when he reunites – however awkwardly with his ex-lover Musetta (Colleen Daly), his performance up to that point is no less captivating. He provides a brilliant sound whenever he sings; rich and deep, filled with a lively fiery animation that pours forth not only in his crystalline sound but in his demanding facial features and physicality.
Playing opposite of him is his saucy love Musetta. Daly gives a sensational performance; an unstoppable force to be reckoned with once she makes her presence known. Using her feminine wiles and sultry charms she sings the risqué “Musetta’s Waltz” in public for all to see her viper-like seductions. When paired up against Mix, Daly creates the epitome of old lovers rekindling their burned out flame; her bold soprano sound resounding vividly against the orchestrations of Puccini’s score.
Then there are the lovers. The dulcet tenor found in Rodolfo (Georgy Vasiliev) inspire tears to the audience when he sings a duet – part of the larger quartet – with Mimi in “Addio Dolce Svegliare Alla Mattina!” The emotions here in this song where he essentially says ‘goodbye, love,’ to Mimi are agonizing and heart-wrenching. Vasiliev’s moments of sheer siren-like song are not all sorrowful, however. During his duet in Act I – “O Soave Fanciulla” the syrupy sweet notion of true love at first sight rings forthright from his voice like a bell as clear as pure white snow on Christmas morning.
The incomparable Mimi (Anna Samuil) is the thunder and lightning of the show. With here serene soprano sound and her simplistic wishes for life you fall instantly in love with Samuil’s portrayal of the classic flower girl. Her duets with Vasiliev swell your heart with ardent fever just to hear them; a deep compassionate longing for their stories to end happily. Her final aria, which starts and finishes as a duet with Rodolfo, “Sono Andati?” is as devastating as her ending; a beautiful tragedy that will make you weep with the remorse for love too short.
A stunning sensational cast with a spectacular score and perfection rising up from the orchestra. If this is just the beginning of their season then I can hardly wait for the operatic gems that are sure to follow as the year progresses.
Running Time: Three hours with two – 15 minute intermissions.
La Bohème has one more performance today November 4, 2012 – at 3 PM – as part of Lyric Opera Baltimore’s second season. Purchase tickets at the box office. Online ticketing is not available. For a look at what’s up next in the season and all of the other performances coming up at the Patricia & Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center, please visit the website.