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Ionarts in Santa Fe: La Bohème

One of the drawbacks of my trip to Siena this year is that I cannot also make my annual pilgrimage to Santa Fe Opera (see 2006 and 2005). Ever willing to sacrifice for Ionarts, Michael Lodico will be reporting from New Mexico this year. -- CTD

Dimitri Pittas (Rodolfo) and Serena Farnocchia (Mimi), La Bohème, Santa Fe Opera, photo by Ken Howard © 2007
The Santa Fe Opera’s compelling new production of Puccini’s La Bohème did not disappoint. Monday evening’s performance included a scheduled cast change for Rodolfo (Gwyn Hughes Jones to Dimitri Pittas), Mimi (Jennifer Black to Serena Farnocchia), and Marcello (Corey McKern to James Westman). Based on Henry Murger's book set in the Quartier Latin of Paris near the end of a long winter in the 1840s, the opera begins with an abrupt three-note descending motif that immediately grabs the attention of the ear. Moments later, this desperate three-note motif is heard upside down, ascending with Romantic expectation. Director Paul Curran’s new production portrays the somewhat bipolar artistic temperament -- which tragically slams back and forth between love and loss -- very effectively by keeping the set intimate in a way that allows the characters never to be overshadowed. Curran’s aim for the set appeared to be realism, which was convincing except for the taxidermic deer head hung on the wall, which could have been a nod to New Mexican culture. After Act I, the attic apartment set impressively folded like a book into a street scene in less than a minute; later, the apartment effortlessly unfolded, with characters inside, for Act IV.

The amount of musical care found in this production was indeed world-class. Conductor Corrado Rovaris focused attention on the singers instead of himself by allowing them to lead the phrasing. The orchestra’s lush strings always reached for the high notes of phrases, while the winds were often delightfully witty and always precise. Tender orchestral moments from Puccini’s score reminded one of the sweet affect Mahler creates in the Adagietto from Symphony No. 5, a work written less than a decade after La Bohème.

Other Reviews:

Been There, Done That (Out West Arts, August 8)

Ho Tanto Freddo: La Boheme In The Blue Light of a New Mexico Night (Opera Chic, July 22)

Kyle MacMillan, Opera warhorses get fresh stagings (Denver Post, July 6)

John Stege, Get Così with La Bohème (Santa Fe Reporter, July 4)

Roger Snodgrass, Boheme is lovely and bittersweet (Santa Fe Monitor, July 4)
Greek tenor Dimitri Pittas (Rodolfo), who portrayed Narraboth in last season’s Salome, sang with inspiring resonance and was always at ease. When in Act I Rodolfo sang of the “moon shining,” so shimmered his voice. In Act I, Italian soprano Serena Farnocchia (Mimi) had an unsure start due to sometimes awkward intonation, though this was resolved, and in the final three acts her focused voice was very convincing. James Westman (Marcello) was often overpowered in duetto moments, soprano Nicole Cabell’s diction as Musetta was not at the level of the rest of the cast, and the chorus tended to lag a bit behind the beat. A special treat near the end of the final act was Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov, whose Colline had rich tone and exceptional phrasing that was never static. It was at this point that he left to pawn his overcoat to purchase food. The feeling of loss felt at Rodolfo’s realization of Mimi’s death was dreadfully heavy.

This production of La Bohème repeats on August 4, 7, 11, 14, 18, 21, and 25.

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