Opera companies regularly schedule Giacomo Puccinis La Bohème because its down-to-earth love story and beautiful melodies have broad appeal, especially to newcomers. N.C. Operas current production is good enough to hook first-timers and, with some exceptions, to satisfy dedicated opera fans.
It was easy for Friday nights audience to imagine the first acts 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 Orduñas cocky musician, Schaunard; Soloman Howards moody philosopher, Colline; Troy Cooks volatile painter, Marcello; and Eric Barrys genial poet, Rodolfo. Later, when Angela Fouts Mimi comes to the room to get a light for her candle, Puccinis romantic score begins its magic with Rodolfo and Mimi registering heartfelt love at first sight.
Barrys warm, lyrical tenor easily encompasses Rodolfos impassioned outbursts, his youthful voice clearly heard except in the orchestras fullest passages. Fout has power to spare in the climactic moments, but her cool, metallic voice is not particularly suited to Mimis 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 Charlottes Opera Carolina imaginatively but is defeated in the cramped second act, where the excellent adult and childrens choruses have nowhere to move, obscuring the focus on the leads.
Still, Puccinis music never fails to weave its spell, presented here with enough of the requisite elements to recommend Sundays matinee.