Only yesterday (November 2, 2014) the tears were more than generic. The Washington National Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s beloved opera—arguably one of the world’s most popular operatic works, and a “gateway” for many to the genre—was beautifully sung and acted by a young, appealing cast.
One cries even though it is obvious from Part One of the opera that the happiness of the seamstress and her newfound lover, the impoverished poet Rodolfo, will probably not last. Not only is she sick, and he has to burn his manuscripts for fuel, but also young love that burn too brightly often fizzle out.
No matter. The tears come anyway.
In an opera that seems, especially in a strong production, to pass too quickly, we see Mimi and Rodolfo, his friends, the painter Marcello, philosopher Colline, and musician Schaunard, and Marcello’s sometime, flirtatious girlfriend Mimi, face the obstacles of artistic block, poverty, and rocky love affairs. But they never lose their sense of humor (sometimes at other people’s expense) or their strong loyalty to one another. Rodolfo’s friends and Musetta go off to sell their meager possessions to buy medicine for Mimi, but when they return, it’s too late.
Tatiana Monogarova has a fine and powerful voice that initially made it hard to imagine her as the physically frail Mimi. However, by Part Two, when both her relationship with Rodolfo and health are more frayed, that fragility is more palpable.
Alexey Dolgov makes a perfect Rodolfo. If on the higher notes the vehicle got thinner, it was more than made up for by the lovely sound and earnest portrayal.
Leah Partridge looked and sounded the part of Musetta, whom Marcello calls a “siren.” Trevor Scheunemann, as her frustrated lover, was strong vocally and convincing dramatically.
Musa Ngqungwana (Colline) and Christian Bowers (Schaunard) round out the quartet of friends effectively with good voices. Donato DiStefano drew laughs in the double roles of Benoit, the landlord, and Musetta’s older lover, Alcindoro—both put upon.
There is also an alternate cast for about half the performances.
Philippe Auguin, music director of the WNO and of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, conducted at a brisk pace and in a manner that made Puccini’s arresting music totally seamless from the rest of this wonderful production.
…beautifully sung and acted by a young, appealing cast.
The transition from the first segment of Part One, set in Rodolfo and Marcello’s dingy, dim garret, to the brilliantly lit and heavily peopled second segment in the Latin Quarter, was magical. I mean that not only in the sense of the spectacular result but that the transition would be hard to explain. Kudos are due set designer Lee Savage and lighting designer Bruno Poet.
That segment also highlighted the talents of the WNO Chorus and Children’s Chorus. Steven Gathman is the chorus master, while Will Breytspraak is master of the latter.
The opera was originally set in the 1830s, but has been updated in this production to World War I era. I’m not sure why that decision was made, but it neither adds to nor detracts. Don’t be surprised, though, if Rodolfo is using a manual typewriter.
Jo Davies is production direction, and Peter Kazaras did the original stage direction. Jennifer Moeller is the costume designer; Ben Wright is choreographer. La Boheme is sung in the original Italian, with English supertitles of Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica’s libretto provided.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes; one 25-minute intermission.
La Boheme plays through November 15, 2014, at the Opera House, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information, call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or click here.