Even with rough edges, Miami Lyric Opera’s “Boheme” hits the high notes

By David Fleshler

The poverty, pathos and youthful high spirits of Puccini’s La Bohème can seem out of place in the splendor of the great opera houses.

But the Miami Lyric Opera’s ardent, low-budget production, which opened Thursday in Miami Beach, entered into the Bohemian spirit of the work more effectively than many more opulent productions, giving a deeply moving—if not always polished—performance that packed an emotional punch far beyond its budget.

Although La Bohème may be among the most frequently performed operas in the United States, Miami Lyric’s production offers something unique, not the forced originality of an opera company trying strenuously to provide a new take on a classic, but a sincere and successful attempt to bring out the essence of what makes this opera great.

No audience member was far from the stage in the 465-seat Colony Theater, and the singers took full advantage of the more intimate surroundings, using subtler, more cinematic acting than what is usually seen on the opera stage. As Mimi, the soprano Jacqueline Quirk communicated her love for Rodolfo with s shy smile and an upward glance. Vocally she dominated the production, with a gleaming voice that was strong throughout its range and delivered the big moments, such as Mi chiamano Mimì and the end of the duet, O soave fanciulla.

As Rodolfo, the aptly named Rodolfo Cuevas brought a lighter voice to the stage than his female counterpart, and was often buried under her more powerful tones. The Mexican tenor’s voice grew thin and raspy in the upper range in Che gelida manina and elsewhere. But Cuevas communicated a real feeling for the role, with a natural physical intimacy with Quirk, particularly in the final scene, where he sat beside her in bed to comfort her.

Only Susana Diaz, who sang Musetta, went for the big exaggerated gestures of the traditional productions, but then that’s what the role of the self-centered seductress calls for. In the famous Quando me’n vò, she displayed a lustrous, agile soprano, and in the final scene, her face and gestures sensitively expressed concern for Mimi in a way that wouldn’t be possible on a larger stage.

As Marcello, Graham Fandrei made a virile contrast to Musetta’s older, hapless, soon-to-be-ex admirer, hoisting Musetta effortlessly on his shoulder at the end of Act II and deploying a smooth baritone in his third act scene with Mimi, Rodolfo and Musetta.

Along with Fandrei, the rest of the Bohemian contingent—the baritone Daniel Snodgrass as Schaunard and bass Diego Baner as Colline—portrayed the camaraderie effectively, avoiding the buffoonery that often characterizes the lighter moments – such as the ejecting of the landlord from the apartment or the last-act revelry that takes place just before the arrival of the dying Mimi. Baner’s large bass voice was a strong point throughout the opera, from his Act I banter with the other Bohemians to his adieu to his overcoat, Vecchia zimarra.

The 25-piece orchestra was smaller than you would find in most opera houses, and the playing was far from flawless, with persistent intonation problems in the strings, occasional flubs in the brass and a loss of ensemble precision in the Act II street-scene chorus. But under the direction of guest conductor Doris Lang Kosloff, the musicians gave a lively performance and rose to the occasion for the big moments, such as the shimmering passages as Mimi and Rodolfo meet and the climax of Act II, as Musetta joins the Bohemians.

The staging was simple, traditional and cost-effective, with the furniture of the garret looking more Rooms to Go than Left Bank. But the moodily lit sets did the job of portraying the artists’ garret, and despite the low budget, provided an effective portrayal of the winter scene by the city gates.

Miami Lyric Opera’s production of La Bohème repeats 8 p.m. Saturday at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. Call 305-674-1040 or go to www.miamilyricopera.org.

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Fri Jul 16, 2010
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