French soprano lifts Palm Beach Opera’s “La Boheme”

By David Fleshler


The artists shivered in their garret, snow fell on the Café Momus and Mimi dropped her muff and died, as Palm Beach Opera put on a respectable performance of Puccini’s La Boheme Friday night at the Kravis Center.

 Directed by Renata Scotto, one of the great Puccini sopranos of the past, the production took a traditional approach that avoided the pratfalls of some performances. But the singing was uneven, particularly in the big first act arias in which Mimi and Rodolfo meet and fall in love.

 The darkly beautiful French soprano Norah Amsellem appeared in the role of Mimi. A terrific actress, she dispensed with the role’s usual clichés, emitting hardly a single cough through the evening. Instead she used her expressions, gestures and posture to show the passion, quiet joy and stubborn strength emerging from the shy next-door neighbor of the first act.  She sang with a rich, full voice that was well focused in the lower register but a bit wobbly at the top.

 Making his American debut as Rodolfo was the Italian tenor Alessandro Liberatore. He started the evening sounding a bit shaky, singing sharp and losing tonal focus in Che gelida manina and O suave fanciulla. But as he warmed up, he displayed a bright, intense voice that brought urgency and grief to the third act aria, Mimi e tanto malata.  But he didn’t demonstrate one-tenth the dramatic ability of his counterpart, meeting her subtle, expressive acting with stiff gestures and stock poses that looked like photos from a CD cover.

 One of the glories of the Palm Beach Opera is the excellent pit orchestra. It was a little too glorious in the first two acts, however, overpowering the singers at a couple of climactic moments where Puccini uses the orchestra to double the vocal line. Otherwise the orchestra was efficiently led by the conductor Guido Ajmone-Marsan.

 As the manipulative party girl Musetta, Carelle Flores sang with a bright, intense voice and dead-on intonation. Her portrayal convincingly showed her transformation from swaggering flirt–nicely complemented by a rat-sized dog on a leash- to the woman of warmth and decency of the last act.

 As Rodolfo’s friend Marcello, Timothy Mix provided a strong, sure baritone that worked well with Liberatore’s bright tenor voice. As the other Bohemians Schaunard and Colline, the baritone Christopher Bolduc and the bass Eric Jordan both sang well, with Jordan doing a particularly fine job with the solemn last-act farewell to his overcoat.

 In the traditional dual roles of the landlord Benoit and Musetta’s rich older boyfriend Alcindoro, the bass Stefan Szkafarowsky displayed a well-shaded comic talent that avoided the buffoonery with which some singers approach these roles.

 The scenery created a lustrous Paris of cold, snowy streets and warm, inviting buildings– except for the artist’s garret, of course, which was appropriately spare and shoved right under the sloping roof of a Latin Quarter building.

 Particularly well handled was the Christmas Eve scene, where some productions allow the stars to get lost in the crowd. Here, despite a large crowd, a juggler and a fine, well-drilled chorus, the singing and the action remained clear.

 La Boheme runs through Monday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. 561-832-7469 or 1-800-KRAVIS1,

David Fleshler is a staff writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, where he has reviewed classical music for the past two years. He plays the violin and grew up in a musical family, with both parents playing in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Sat Apr 4, 2009
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