Florida Grand Opera lives up to its name with a moving and impassioned “La Bohème”

By David Fleshler

Ailyn Pérez and Arturo Chacón-Cruz star in Florida Grand Opera’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Gaston de Cardenas

Opening night at Florida Grand Opera always produces a good show, with tuxedos, $10,000 gowns and an air of anticipation in the Arsht Center’s darkly glamorous opera house.

What takes place on stage doesn’t always measure up to the excitement in the crowd, but at the season-opening performance of Puccini’s La Bohème Saturday night, FGO delivered a moving, passionate performance with one of the finest sopranos to sing with the company in many years.

Ailyn Pérez, who sings the role of Mimì, performed last week in a gala concert at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall as winner of the prestigious Richard Tucker Award for young singers. The Chicago-born soprano sings with a warm lyricism that’s perfect for the role of Puccini’s gentle, loving, tubercular seamstress. Her evenly produced, well-focused voice projects effortlessly. Pérez spun long lines of soft melody as she introduces herself to the poet Rodolfo in Sì, mi chiamano Mimì and when she says she will leave him in Donde lieta uscì, the soprano rose to a passage of soaring lyricism as she tells her lover to keep her pink bonnet as a memory of their love. Throughout the evening, she never disappointed, wringing all the emotion from the moments of grand passion, from her desire for winter to last forever so they would never leave each other to her feverish dying expressions of love for Rodolfo.

As Rodolfo, the Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz gave a terrific performance of youthful ardor and vocal power. He delivered a smoothly executed Che gelida manina and O soave fanciulla. Chacón-Cruz brought an exciting intensity to his voice at moments of great emotion, as when he discloses to his friend Marcello the fearful cough Mimì has developed, achieving emotion not by volume but through vocal intensity and feeling. In the first act scene in which Mimì and Rodolfo meet, flirt, open up about themselves and fall in love in a cascade of arias and duets—one of the most romantic passages in all opera—the lean virility of his voice and the sweetness of Pérez’s came together to produce a compelling portrayal of young love.

As the beautiful Musetta, Marcello’s on-and-off girlfriend, the soprano Brittany Ann Reneé Robinson gave an assured performance that communicated desirability and jealousy without the stock, over-the-top diva gestures that so often accompany this role. In Musetta’s Waltz,  she caressed an embarrassed waiter and sang in luminous tones about her own gorgeousness, although some harshness crept into her high notes.

The role of Rodolfo’s friend Marcello fell to the baritone Mark Walters, an FGO regular who consistently turns in strong performances, most recently in the title role of last season’s acclaimed Rigoletto. His dark voice matched well with Perez in their third-act duet and with Chacón-Cruz in the last act, as they remember their lost loves.

As Rodolfo’s other two friends, the singers captured the easy camaraderie of their bohemian life and rose to the occasion for their solo moments. As Schaunard, Ryan Milstead was appropriately full of himself as he tried to relate how he obtained food, money, wine and cigars to brighten their bleak Christmas Eve. As Colline, Adam Lau brought as much pathos as he could in addressing an article of clothing as he said farewell to the overcoat he had decided to sell to help the dying Mimì.

Throughout the opera there was an authenticity to the acting and direction that came from spare gestures and a sense of not trying too hard. Director David Gately allowed the sincerity of the characters to come through in this most human of operas, in which the characters are closer to our own lives than the Gypsy bands, Norse gods, and Egyptian princes that populate other well-known operas.  Gately directed a performance that was realistic yet full of life and energy. In Act 2 at Café Momus, the scene was a busy one of outdoor vendors, street urchins and crowds, yet Gately kept the focus firmly on Rodolfo, Mimì and their friends at their table.

The only negative element was the production, obtained from Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Aside from decent scenery of the guardhouse and tavern in Act 3, the sets had a budget, off-Broadway feel with a painted Parisian skyline behind a garret that was just done too plain and cut-rate.

The orchestra, led by FGO music director Ramon Tebar, turned in a smoothly executed performance, providing firm support to the singers and a richly colored evocation of Puccini’s score.  John Keene’s chorus contributed energetic, boisterous and realistically drawn ensemble singing.

A traditional production of one of the most popular operas in the world may not be the most adventurous way to open a season. But FGO’s new general director, Susan Danis, the highly regarded former chief of Sarasota Opera—who had no role in programming this season—has said she wants to produce German opera, 20th- and 21st-century works and other repertoire not normally heard by South Florida audiences. For all its traditionalism, Saturday’s first-class Puccini opening shows she has plenty of promising material to work with in the coming seasons.

Florida Grand Opera’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème continues through Dec. 2 at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and runs Dec. 6 and 8 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. fgo.org; 800-741-1010.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Florida Grand Opera lives up to its name with a moving and impassioned “La Bohème””

  1. Posted Nov 20, 2012 at 1:37 am by Andrew J Tabone

    This is assuredly one of the finest performances of La Boheme in years of attending operas. I went opening night prepared to be satisfied, and left feeling very full and forever enriched by the confluence of talent and delivery. The tenor, soprano, conductor, and ensemble cast couldn’t have offered up a more memorable La Boheme. Enthralling! Thank you for generously exceeding my expectations.

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Sun Nov 18, 2012
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