Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: 'La Bohème'

Virginia Opera, Peter Mark conducting
Oct. 23, Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage

The Virginia Opera gave Richmonders a taste of its production of Puccini’s "La Bohème" five weeks ago in the Richmond CenterStage opening gala, when the four principals sang the paired duets and quartet from Act 3. That first impression was largely reinforced in the first of two weekend performances that close the opera’s run.

Derek Taylor (as Rodolfo), Veronica Mitina (Mimi), Eugene Brancoveanu (Marcello) and Elizabeth Andrews Roberts (Musetta) looked and acted the parts of young bohemians in late 19th-century Paris; but at times they sounded mismatched, with their roles and with one another.

Brancoveanu’s robust baritone tended to make other voices sound small, although he reined in his tone in ensembles. Roberts sang with a rather steely edge, not inappropriate for her street-wise, flirtatious character; but "Quando me’n vo soletta per la via," Musetta’s Act 2 aria (and "Bohème’s" best-known tune), needs more voluptuous treatment than Roberts gave it.

Mitina started out projecting more like a Tosca, or even a Turandot, but captured the physical and emotional fragility of Mimi where it really counted, in her Act 3 parting with Rodolfo and her death scene in Act 4. Taylor’s voice sounded decidedly under-powered in the early going, but grew and warmed as the performance progressed.

Michael Redding (Schaunard) and Nathan Stark (Colline) brought big tone and fine characterization to their substantial supporting roles. Terry Hodges reveled in the comic roles of the landlord Benoit and Alcindoro, Musetta’s befuddled sugar-daddy.

The chorus of adults and children, prepared by Joseph Walsh, sang energetically and nicely fleshed out the Act 2 street scene.

Julia Pevzner’s unfussy stage direction kept the drama focused on its main characters and their tangled emotions, physically underlining the conversational quality of this opera, and never stumbled in its sudden shifts from broad comedy to intimacy and tragedy. No fussing with the locale and time frame, either, in stereotypically Latin Quarter Parisian sets (by Allen Charles Klein) and costumes (from Opera Theatre of St. Louis).

Peter Mark’s energetic conducting was distractingly visible, at least from the vantage of those in orchestra seats; does his podium need to be as high as it was for this performance? Mark obtained expressive and colorful, if not very well-padded, playing from members of the Virginia Symphony.

The final performance of the Virginia Opera’s "La Bohème" begins at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Carpenter Theatre, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $29-$99. Details: (866) 673-7282 (Ticketmaster);