Seattle Opera puts on lovely, heartbreaking "La Boheme"

  • By Jackson Holtz, for The Herald
  • Monday, February 25, 2013 12:39pm
  • Life

Seattle Opera’s new production of Puccini’s “La Boheme” features sepia-toned photographs of turn-of-the-century Paris.

Before the curtain rises on the famous quartet of the rough-living friends – including Rodolfo, the poet, and Marcello, the painter – the audience is invited to travel across the Atlantic and back in time through the lens of an old camera.

During Saturday’s opening night, the use of these digitally projected photos with the action on stage, the period sets and costumes, Puccini’s gorgeous music, blended into harmonies bested only by the sweet voices of the singers.

Italian tenor Francesco Demuro (Rodolfo) and the Cuban soprano Elizabeth Caballero (Mimi) sparkle in the lead roles. Their love fills the opera house from the moment they meet in the first act.

Americans Jennifer Black and Michael Fabiano make their Seattle Opera debuts as Mimi and Rodolfo in the alternative cast.

As the opera community waits in eager anticipation for this summer’s productions of Wagner’s Ring, “Boheme” is refreshingly lovely, approachable and heartbreaking. The word “handkerchief” trended on Twitter during the second intermission as the audience prepared for the tragic ending.

If you’ve never cried during an opera, I invite you to see “Boheme” and try to leave dry-eyed.

“Boheme” easily is the most popular and frequently performed of all operas, with good reason. Its story of friendship, love and despair is simple and universal. Along with “Aida” and “Carmen,” “Boheme” is one of the A, B, C, operas – productions suited for new audiences.

The second act brings late 19th-century Paris to life in a street scene that includes a juggler, a parade and a terrific chorus. Before the curtain falls, the main crew of Bohemians poses for a street portrait, an image of insouciance and joviality that marks a sharp counterpoint to the ending. Act three’s 25-minute snowfall makes us wish, along with Mimi, that winter would never end.

By the time the curtain fell, I wished that this opera had stretched out the tragic ending – but we all yearn for a few more minutes with Mimi. We are left, instead, with her memory etched in sepia tones on a black-and-white photo.

The cast, along with conductor Carlo Montanaro and stage director Tomer Zvulun, were received in one of the most rousing ovations I’ve seen.

“La Boheme” continues through March 10 with performances on Feb. 27 and March 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 10. The March 3 and March 10 performances are matinees.

For the final performance, the opera is offering four $15 youth tickets along with every full-priced adult ticket.

More information at seattleopera.org.

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