Review: NC Opera's 'La Bohème' appeals to opera aficionados, newcomers

CorrespondentJanuary 25, 2014 

Giacomo Puccini’s romantic score for “La Bohème” works its magic with Rodolfo (Eric Barry, right) and Mimi (Angela Fout) registering heartfelt love at first sight. Barry’s warm, lyrical tenor easily encompasses Rodolfo’s impassioned outbursts, and Fout has power to spare in the climactic moments.

CURTIS BROWN PHOTOGRAPHY

  • If you go

    What: Puccini’s “La Bohème,” presented by N.C. Opera

    Where: Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh

    When: 3 p.m. Sunday

    Tickets: $25-$83

    Information: 919-792-3853 or ncopera.org

Opera companies regularly schedule Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème” because its down-to-earth love story and beautiful melodies have broad appeal, especially to newcomers. N.C. Opera’s current production is good enough to hook first-timers and, with some exceptions, to satisfy dedicated opera fans.

It was easy for Friday night’s audience to imagine the first act’s freezing 1830s Paris garret, having come in from 20 degrees outside. The four roommates’ comic attempts to forget the cold are quickly established by John Orduña’s cocky musician, Schaunard; Soloman Howard’s moody philosopher, Colline; Troy Cook’s volatile painter, Marcello; and Eric Barry’s genial poet, Rodolfo. Later, when Angela Fout’s Mimi comes to the room to get a light for her candle, Puccini’s romantic score begins its magic with Rodolfo and Mimi registering heartfelt love at first sight.

Barry’s warm, lyrical tenor easily encompasses Rodolfo’s impassioned outbursts, his youthful voice clearly heard except in the orchestra’s fullest passages. Fout has power to spare in the climactic moments, but her cool, metallic voice is not particularly suited to Mimi’s coy reticence. Both singers had their best moments in the dramatic third and fourth acts.

Baritone Cook may have been suffering from cold-related issues (as announced) but his Marcello was beautifully sung and characterized. Jacqueline Echols brightens up the busy second-act café setting with her perky Musetta, making her on-again-off-again relationship with Marcello both humorous and moving.

Robert Moody conducted with confidence and a good feel for the Puccinian line, but his tempos were often too slow to maintain momentum, robbing some of the biggest moments of their usual emotional rush, especially in the first two acts.

Director Crystal Manich makes the characters accessibly natural with palpable emotions, although the action sometimes became rather static. She uses the sets from Charlotte’s Opera Carolina imaginatively but is defeated in the cramped second act, where the excellent adult and children’s choruses have nowhere to move, obscuring the focus on the leads.

Still, Puccini’s music never fails to weave its spell, presented here with enough of the requisite elements to recommend Sunday’s matinee.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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