Tag Archives: La Boheme

Shimmering ‘La bohème’ Opens Glimmerglass Festival

Operatoonity.com review: La bohème presented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Friday, July 8, 2016, 7:30 p.m.
Alice Busch Opera Theater
Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Luigi Illica & Giuseppe Giacosa
4.5 out of 5.0 stars

4.5strslg

The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Glimmerglass Festival mounted a memorable tribute to its founding with a new production of La bohème, the first show the company ever presented in 1975. Those visionaries who believed summertime opera performed in repertory could somehow matter in a New York town only known for baseball would have and most likely adored this season’s opening production.

Filled with spectacle, informed by careful attention to the real Parisian scene during La Belle Époque, the 2016 show succeeded on many levels—for those who desired to wrap themselves in Puccini’s beloved melodies to those with expectations for a beauty and symmetry that Puccini himself envisioned to those seeking abandon in the doomed relationship between destitute young lovers.

Raquel González as Mimì and Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo and Raquel González as Mimì in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Because this production was set in period, it is easier for the audience to accept the show’s many provincialities. Mimi is a seamstress who can only advance herself by foregoing true love and sleeping with a rich man. Musetta and the Bohemians take full advantage of an old coot’s weakness for a slender ankle and stick him with the check. Marcello and Rodolfo both bemoan the fact that women are somehow born to flirt.

Dale Travis as Alcindoro and Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Dale Travis as Alcindoro and Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

That being said, Director E. Loren Meeker has taken great care to render a La bohème that both suited the venue and that subtly acknowledged some of the most successful stagings of the show. Her vision for the opera invoked a transcendent experience while paying homage to the pageantry of the well-known Zeffirelli version currently in the Met’s classic repertoire.

The Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

While La bohème happens to be my least favorite of Puccini’s operas, Meeker and her production team elevated the show to an unmatched artistic level, and all deserve a hearty bravi. All operatic elements worked in tandem, most effectively during the Christmas Eve festival. The scene opened with a choral celebration, trumpeting the Bohemians arrival in the Latin quarter. The chorus under the skillful direction of Choral Master David Moody and Children’s Chorus Master Tracy Allen together with clever costumes by Erik Teague and choreography by Eric Sean Fogel transported us from a dingy garret to Gay Paree.

David Walton as Parpignol in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

David Walton as Parpignol in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

As the tragic heroine Mimi, soprano Raquel González was ideally suited to the role. She had a shimmering, youthful voice that never lost its sweet tone, even while filling the hall during her first aria “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” when she introduces herself to Rodolfo in his grimy flat. It is important that the audience believe in Mimi as a modest young seamstress with inherent goodness or the role can come off cloying and insincere. She was such a believable Mimi, one sensed the despair Rodolfo must feel having lost her twice.

 "Sì, mi chiamano Mimì"

Raquel González sings “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” in Act I.

From his very first note Rodolfo, tenor Michael Brandenburg exhibited a spinto quality with a brightness reminding me of Juan Diego Flórez. Brandenburg’s tenor needed to cut through the orchestra which occasionally overpowered the singers, a problem I never encountered at Glimmerglass in the last several years and hope I don’t encounter again. (One does come to hear the operatic voices first and foremost, Maestro Colaneri.) While González’s appearance affected a perfect Mimi, because of his scruffy beard and lackluster garb, Brandenburg looked more like Motel the Tailor than that of the romantic lead Mimi falls for instantly. He did a serviceable job as Rodolfo, and I would be intrigued to see him in a character role.

Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo

Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo

Rodolfo and his flat mates Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard en scene were another highlight of this production. Though there hijinks were somewhat corny, their vocals soared. Props to all the Bohemians for the lift their vocal and physical energies lent the show. Young Artist Brian Vu was so energetic and gifted his every appearance telegraphed, “I’d like a starring role, please.” A special nod to Hunter Enoch as Marcello, whose baritone could be rich and bright and dark and bristling as the role demanded.

L to R: Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo, Hunter Enoch as Marcello, Brian Vu as Schaunard and Ryhs Lloyd Talbot as Colline in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

L to R: Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo, Hunter Enoch as Marcello, Brian Vu as Schaunard and Ryhs Lloyd Talbot as Colline in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Young Artist Vanessa Becerra rendered my favorite Musetta ever. Not merely a scene-stealing minx with a glorious soprano voice, Becerra was entirely believable at the end of the production, giving comfort to her dying friend. Brava, Ms. Becerra. You were delightful.

Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Though the Bohemians’ clothes are threadbare and the opera is done too frequently, the cast and crew of Glimmerglass’s 2016 La bohème have injected a freshness and a genuine affection into their version. It was as welcome and sweet as a frosty mug of birch beer on a warm summer’s eve.

La bohème runs through Saturday, August 27 in repertory with Sweeney Todd, The Thieving Magpie, and The Crucible. More information is available here.

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Festival Opera, Live opera performance, Reviews

“Louise,” an opera premiere to celebrate

Editor’s note: Louise premiered on February 2, Groundhog Day, in 1900, in Paris, France. (This is a Golden Operatoonity post).

poster from the opera Louise

Isn’t this a lovely opera poster? Don’t you want to melt away in Julien’s arms, too?

My former classmate Ginger found a great book on opera at a thrift shop somewhere in the lower forty-eight (she’s always flitting about the country) called The Standard Opera and Concert Guide and mailed it to me.

It’s a wonderful old book with detailed information about popular and not-so-popular operas. I thought I’d introduce readers to a composer and opera I’d never heard of: Louise by Gustave Charpentier, first produced in Paris in 1900.

A French example of verismo opera, it tells the story of the love between Louise, a seamstress living with her parents, and Julien, a Bohemian poet. It is the story of Louise’s desire for freedom (associated in her mind with her lover and the city of Paris). According to Standard Opera and Concert Guide, it is like La Bohème in that it is “first and last a story of Paris life.”

The plot turns upon Louise breaking her home ties in a tragic way, with the accompaniments of the Paris street life and the revels of Montmartre, her hometown.

The kernel of the story resonates for me. My daughter moved to Vermont to go to college and was exposed to a much different, more Bohemian way of life than she was exposed to in little old Lancaster County. It is sometimes hard and heart-breaking to watch your children break away, struggling to find themselves, but very necessary to their maturity.

Not that anything tragic has befallen our family as a result of my daughter’s finding a new home in Brattleboro, but the angst between Louise and her father, in particular, certainly hits home for me. Her dying father rages that Louise does not love him as she used to. Louise responds by saying all she wants in Julien and Paris. The her father then bids Louise never return.  When he realizes the error of his actions, Louise is long gone.

Who among us hasn’t felt pushed out of our children’s lives by friends and other circumstances?

The  music is purportedly wonderfully expressive of the traits and character of Parisian street life. I haven’t found any US opera companies that have produced it lately. Louise is, however, available on many recordings.

Many sopranos have recorded the “Depuis le jour,”  the signature aria: Sills, Callas, Moffo, Price, Fleming.  Here’s a beautiful version of “Depuis le jour,”  the signature aria, live from Covent Garden, sung by Angela Gheorghiu:

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Golden Operatoonity, Opera Marketing, Terminology

an opera academy training world-class singers in my backyard . . . practically

*This is an Operatoonity Encore Post which complements the North American opera theme this month.

The Academy of Vocal Arts

So, I have this delightful friend Barbara who owns a design agency. And she says, “Do you want to go to the opera with me?”

Do I want to go to the opera? Does it take opera singers ten minutes to die after being fatally stabbed on stage?

And she sends me a link. It’s being presented in Haverford, Pennsylvania, about an hour’s drive from my home. And I say, sure, because it’s La Bohème, which I have never seen in person.

Then Barbara tells me her firm is assisting the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA), founded in 1934. And of course, I’m not surprised about Barbara lending her talented team to help a non-profit–she’s a wonderful, generous person. But I am surprised about the Academy of Vocal Arts dating back to 1934 because I’d never heard of it before.

According to their website, the mission of The Academy of Vocal Arts is to provide tuition-free vocal and opera training and financial support during training to talented and committed young singers who have the potential for the international opera circuit. The Academy of Vocal Arts gives their protégés a showcase  in professional performances accessible to the Philadelphia community and beyond. For instance, their production of La Bohème will appear in several venues throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. I will catch it at The Haverford School on May11.

What they are offering up-and-coming opera stars sounds like a fantastic service. If you’ve ever wondered how young artists learn how to be opera singers–I know I have–now you know that  organizations like the Academy of Vocal Arts exist to do just that.

In my book, DEVILED BY DON, I have a young Argentine singer, Leandro Vasquez, who receives this sort of specialized training, thanks to the generosity of a patron of the arts. The Academy of Vocal Arts sounds like a much better system for the continuation of the craft than a gifted opera singer who’s lucky enough to stumble onto a wealthy patron who takes a shine to him.

At the Academy of Vocal Arts, singers come from throughout the world to seek  guidance and training.  Admission is  by competitive annual auditions. The resident artists accepted into the program receive training equivalent to more than $70,000 per year.

Every year AVA resident artists are presented in four or five fully-staged opera productions accompanied by orchestra, playing leading roles they in all likelihood will continue to perform for the rest of their careers.

James Valenti, AVA alum

For instance, the 2010 Richard Tucker Award Winner, James Valenti, who just made his Met debut in La Traviata, studied at the AVA in Philadelphia. You can read more about James Valenti on the Richard Tucker Foundation website. BTW, isn’t he gorgeous?

Now that I know more about AVA and their mission, I am excited to see their production and can’t wait to report my observations on “opera-toonity.”

And thanks, Barb, for another connection to the opera-sphere.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Classic Opera, North American Opera, Performers

Happy New Year, Operatoonists! Here’s your fave December opera!

Earlier this month I conducted a poll, asking you to identify the opera that best suits the month of December. Despite some of the traditional Christmas classical fare, La Bohème won the poll by a two-to-one margin.

So here’s a New Year‘s Eve/last day of December gift for all my readers. Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko singing, “O soave fanciulla” from, of course, Puccini‘s La Bohème.

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favorite December opera, anyone?

Winter Solstice

Every December, I expect to see less daylight but more white twinkle lights during my evening commute and hear musical selections I don’t hear the other eleven months of the year. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Winter Solstice, holiday music is imbued with certain qualities–that includes classical music.    

Thanks to Western religions, December has a certain musical sensibility about it. Consider the  following selection of operas. Many of them–Hänsel and Gretel (Humperdinck), Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti) and Norma (Bellini) –actually premiered in December. Some of them have a certain lightness to them–Daughter of the Regiment, La Cenerentola–that warms you like wrapping a woolen mitten around your heart. Others like La bohème have a cold, snowy, Little-Match-Girl affect to them.    

Which is your favorite? All write-ins welcome in the comments section. If you’re curious to see what’s playing in the month of December around the world, you can see all the listings of many major houses at Bachtrack.

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Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera, favorites, Holidays, Poll