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Some short impressions of Opening Night of Seattle Opera's "La Boheme":


The direction by Tomer Zvulun was detailed and crisp. The singers had time to and space to react to one another, and the goofing among the male Bohemians, which can be stilted, was really funny and very sharp, especially Andrew Garland's Schaunard in the opening and closing acts. The Cafe Momus scene, with the superb Seattle Opera Chorus and Children's Chorus, popped with energy and cheer. Norah Ansellem played Musetta as a Cole Porter heroine, Miss "I'll Always Be True to You in My Fashion," but, in typical fashion, Marcello wasted his time and energy being jealous.


Elizabeth Caballero sang Mimi. Her voice has a golden quality, and it soared over the orchestra. What was so impressive is that while Puccini shifts pretty quickly between light and in your face orchestration -- the most obvious example is in "Mi chiamano Mimi," in the transition to the third part -- there wasn't an noticeable boom in volume: she just eased into a bigger sound.


My favorite part of "La Boheme" is Act III, and here it was beautifully sung by Michael Todd Simpson (Marcello), Caballero, and Francesco Demuro (Rodolfo). I usually find Act IV a let-down, but Caballero's slow decline throughout the act was dramatically true and very moving. The act opened with the finest Rodolfo/Marcello duet I've heard in many decades of hearing the work. There's a part towards the end when Marcello has a few lines of his own, and Simpson's delivery was heartfelt in its directness and simplicity. (It's one of the few times in the opera where he's not melodramatic about his up-and-down relationship with Musetta or being a shoulder to cry on.) His and Demuro's voice blended beautifully, and the friendship was palpable. Arthur Woodley, possibly the only member of the cast who was alive when I saw my first "La Boheme" in 8th grade at New York City Opera, was meant to be the older, wiser advisor to the young Bohemians, and he sang "Vecchia zimarra" like the philosopher his character was, contemplating each phrase, rather than singing a lovely, sad song, and his sonorous bass filled the theater.


The orchestra, conducted by Carlo Montenaro, soared in the big orchestral moments, but also played with sensitivity and subtlety in the quieter parts of the score.

I can't wait for tomorrow afternoon's performance with the alternate cast.

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Some quick thoughts between Act I/II and Act III. I hadn't seen a staging before where I can remember Collline buying the overcoat on Christmas Eve and finding the rare grammar in a pocket. It's even more poignant that the coat's life with Colline began and ended with Mimi and Rodolfo's relationship.


This production makes wonderful use of projections, most notably the wonderful sepia photographs of period Paris during the set change between Acts I and II, and the lighting is used beautifully in the Cafe Momus scene.


Michael Fabiano: there aren't enough Guy Fieri superlatives to describe him, but I'll stick with: he's the real deal. Sonorous voice from top to bottom. His Rodolfo reminds me of why the Italian boys I grew up with were equal parts babe magnet and impossible.

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As I mentioned, I love Act II, and Fabiano and Mimi, Jennifer Black, made me love it even more, with help from Keith Phares' Marcello and Jennifer Zetlan's Musetta. You could hear the emotional exhaustion of a Mimi who had been up all night and was out at the crack of dawn to find Rodolfo's best friend and have the painful discussions that women have with their maybe ex-boyfriend's best friend. Her "Addio senza rancor" was heartbreaking. Fabiano wore his voice on his sleeve, and he has a very wide emotional palate. When he sang to Marcello, "I'm scared," it was like a knife. Smart is irresistible, and, as an artist, he is very, very smart.

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As I mentioned, I love Act II.....

A typo......I think you meant Act III.

P.S. I too saw both casts and loved both in this energetic and well directed production. There was something very realistic about the characters and their movements I found very satisfying. The singing was glorious by both casts, tho I think I liked the chemistry btwn Fabiano and Black the best. It was a real kick seeing Fabiano on stage (as well as having such an obviously successful career on his hands) after having seen him in the fabulous documentary "The Audition". Michael was the "star" of that film in many ways (in the sense that one was unlikely to forget him). I've seen the film several times and the line that most sticks out for me is when the Met coaches comment on the incredible power of Fabiano's voice and say something along the lines of "What a voice....if he doesn't kill himself" (meaning "playing his instrument" so loud, and thru exhaustion or a nervous breakdown).

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Oops, yes, I did mean Act III. (There was not break between Acts I&II, and my brain moved them up one.) I went back the next weekend, and I wish I could have seen both casts again, but I could only see Black, Fabiano, and Phares with Ansellem's Musetta.


The sweet spot in the opera house is in the second tier boxes, and I was extremely lucky that there was one empty seat in the second row of the second box on the left side facing the stage. The boxes are attached to a wall, but about six feet or so beyond the partial wall is a space, and the resonance from that space is the closest thing I've experienced to being at Carnegie Hall. Because Mimi and Rodolfo sing their first act arias downstage right, it was the perfect place to hear the singers. Sound pours from Fabiano's throat, and he didn't need that extra resonance, but there it was, and I was in heaven.


There was a woman who was taking two young girls, maybe 8 and 10?, to, I believe, their first opera. The girls sat in the first row, and she sat next to me. We had the regular seats; the third row has moveable chairs and a pretty deep space; when I came back partway through one intermission, I saw they had spread out a picnic at their feet smile.png

I went to several of Speight Jenkins' Q&A's after the opera, and one thing he emphasize was how much rehearsal time Act II, which is 18 minutes long (give or take), took. In a four-hour stage rehearsal, it took over 25% of the rehearsal. There are the singers, the children's chorus, the adult chorus which, if I'm remembering correctly, was supplemented with extra singers, a guy on stilts, a juggler, dancers, and maybe extras, all of whom had to come together. Especially at the beginning of the act, there was organized chaos, vignettes left and right, all too much to absorb even in three viewings.


The entire enterprise reminded me of Ratmansky's"Don Quixote" which came to PNB after having been created for Dutch National Ballet. In scene after scene, there was so much going on, but like with Zvulun's staging of "La Boheme," somehow the eye went to the right thing at the right time amidst the chaos, and if it didn't, it never seemed like a distraction.


The Mimis and Rodolfos could not have been more different: Demuro was a sweetheart, very gentle, but ever the chauvinist: the type of guy who would smile sweetly and tell a women what she would or wouldn't do as he patted her cheek, as opposed to Fabiano's more declarative approach. It was easy to dismiss Demuro's temperament in Act II; with Fabiano, the parallels between Alcindoro fretting over Musetta's behavior, trying to make her into a Lady, trying to get her to be demure, and Rodolfo telling what his girl does or doesn't do and trying to rationalize it as natural jealousy were very clear. Mimi is rightly puzzled by this and her reaction -- We just met. We're in love. Why are you trying to kill the buzz? -- shows how tough she is; she stands her ground. Musetta was happy to play the men off one another and make each as uncomfortable as possible. There was a very funny set of light cues before Musetta sang her waltz, as she snapped a finger for more light: it was like turn-of-the-century karaoke, and Alcindoro was mortified.


Having consumption was common enough, and it affected many types of people, many of whom were forceful personalities until the end. A poor young women was not sent to Switzerland to convalesce with Hans Castorp. She coped with her life as best she could. It's possible that she's working in her garret because her health was weak, not because she was a shy wallflower. You could feel the life force in Caballero, and it was as if she weakened one layer at a time. By contrast, Jennifer Black was a sweet, gentle Mimi. It was interesting that they were cast in contrasting pairs, one force of nature with one gentler creature.


I would love to see Caballero and Fabiano sing Mimi and Rodolfo together someday. The energy would be explosive.

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Fascinating analysis Helene....as always.

Something happened after one of the performances I can't stop thinking about. I'm wondering what you might think. When the opera was over I mentioned to my wife, Kathy, that I have never found it believable that Mimi actually leaves R to stay with the rich guy simply because she needs his money to get proper care. Mimi strikes me as someone who would always put her new found love before her own well being. Kathy made a comment that has stuck with me. She theorized that perhaps Mimi never went to the rich guy's house, but instead stayed in her garret being careful not to allow R to see her (R lives one flight down after all and would not pass Mimi's door in his comings and goings). She does this after she hears in Act III what R's motives are for driving her away. She knows he will be happier if he thinks she is being taken care of properly; she knows she is dying anyway. IOW, she sacrifices herself for his happiness.....very Mimi it seems to me.

I find Kathy's surmise intriguing since I have always found it difficult to swallow that Mimi would not only leave R, but languish in luxury though the last days of her life, away from R, until the very last day of her life when she comes back for little more than a good-bye.

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The odd thing about the rich guy, which is described, not shown, is trying to figure out the timing and what happened. Mimi comes back to Rodolfo in her dying day. She's dressed in her "poor" costume, and she doesn't have a dime to her name, nothing to sell. She couldn't have come straight from the Viscount, or Musetta wouldn't be selling her earrings. What is the likelihood that the rich guy would have cared for her when she was that ill?

The end of Act III is more exhausted than truly hopeful: although her condition was out in the open, their circumstances were no better, and another break-up was inevitable. This, I think, was Puccini's dramatic genius in that bittersweet act. I suspect she either wasn't very good at being the mistress of the rich guy, and/or she became too ill: either way, he dumped her, and she was back to poverty. In Act IV Musetta asks G-d to accept a prayer from a sinner on behalf of an innocent-hearted woman. The morality there isn't about sexual purity or fidelity -- we've already heard that Mimi is with a rich guy for practical reasons, not love -- but about being a good, kind person who doesn't play with people's feelings. It's not the morality of the Giorgio Germonts of the opera world.

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"La Boheme" director Tomer Zvulun was just appointed Artistic Director of Atlanta Ballet, where he's directed several productions and is expected to direct two a year for the company.


Congratulations to Atlanta Ballet and Zvulun :flowers:

He gave up medical school for opera, not the thing an Israeli mother usually wants to hear, but I hope she's proud.

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