Starving artists in Paris, the young poet Rodolfo and the dying seamstress Mimi: "Boheme" is a masterful blend of gorgeous melodies and an affecting story of young love and loss.
Skagit Opera's production of "La Boheme," which opened last weekend, will make those fans very happy. It's a first-rate show, with a vocally strong and attractive cast, handsome costumes and sets and an orchestra that gives voice to Puccini's delicate score.
With this production, Skagit Opera reaches a new level of quality and professionalism, thanks in large measure to the addition of projected English captions above the stage. This "Boheme" is performed in its original Italian, as it should be, while the story is told in the projected captions.
The captions, from Seattle Opera, were a considerable financial investment and well worth it.
Mimi is a frail seamstress. Rodolfo is a struggling poet. They meet, famously, when her candle goes out and she knocks at his garret door. In the dark, their hands touch and they fall in love. Happiness and mirth follow but, alas, it's not to be. The tubercular Mimi is dying and Rodolfo and his bohemian friends cannot save her. Cue the hankies for the heartbreaking last act.
This is a big production, with a large chorus including small children in addition to the six main principals, all young, gifted singers who give "Boheme" a youthful glow.
Tenor Stephen Rumph makes an ardent Rodolfo. His voice is set high and has a bright, appealing tone. Soprano Christina Kowlaski, who sings the role of Mimi, brings an affecting pathos to the role. Where Rodolfo is all youth and vigor, she is frail and suffering. She has a big voice that serves her best in this role when she holds it back a bit for more softness to showcase its warmth. Her duets with Rumph are a vocal highlight.
Soprano Alexandra Picard makes a big impression as Musetta, the flirtatious coquette with a heart of gold. The happy crowd is celebrating Christmas Eve outside cafe Momus in the second act when Musetta, dressed in a slinky, fire-engine red dress, arrives to sing "Musetta's Waltz" and knocks it out of the ballpark. That's the tune you'll be humming when the opera is over.
Rodolofo's bohemian buddies are sung by bass Matthew Curran, bass-baritone Joseph Rawley and baritone Matthew Hayward. This is a potent trio of voices, each with its own appealing strengths.
Erich Parce's coherent and straight-forward stage direction plays up the sweetness and humor of the opera while giving it dramatic heft. Conductor Alastair Willis and the orchestra are in full command of Puccini's melodious score. The artists are never overwhelmed by the music.
The sets from Utah Festival Opera evocatively re-create the artist's garret and the lively cafe life of bohemian Paris. During the set changes between acts, a projection screen drops from the ceiling and scenes from a 1926 silent film of "La Boheme" starring Lillian Gish are shown with accompanying music.
Here we have two important art forms from the past -- grand opera and moving pictures -- captivating a 21st century audience anew.
"La Boheme": A Skagit Opera production at 7:30 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday at McIntyre Hall, 2501 E. College Way, Mount Vernon. In Italian with English captions. $25 to $54, with discounts for seniors, students and military, 866-624-6897, www.skagitopera.org.
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