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Lyric Opera Baltimore offers comfy 'Boheme' to open second season

Lyric Opera Baltimore offers comfy 'Boheme' to open second season

Call it retro night at the opera.

A comfy, traditional production of Puccini's evergreen and irresistible "La Boheme" opened Lyric Opera Baltimore's second season Friday.

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The modest-scale sets would have looked dated in the 1960s, but won applause from the sizable audience at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.

And the stage direction was so literal and sensible that it seemed almost radical, given the common practice these days of updating, re-examining and re-interpreting well-worn operas.

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If there was a museum quality to the visual side of things, the music got a fresh enough spin from the sturdy, spirited cast.

Anna Samuil gave a sympathetic performance as the tender-hearted, consumptive seamstress Mimi, who, like her fellow Parisian bohemians, struggles with issues of love and livelihood.

The soprano's fast vibrato gave her tone intriguing coloring, and, at her best, her phrasing communicated vividly. There were beautiful touches in her Act 1 aria, but she breezed through its closing, recitative-like lines in a curiously impersonal manner.

Samuil made up for that, though, in Act 3, with gorgeous, long-breathed sculpting of the last lines of "Donde lieta usci." This was exquisitely poetic singing.

As Mimi's devoted, if conflicted, lover Rodolfo, tenor Georgy Vasiliev offered a nicely ringing tone. His phrasing tended toward ...

the generic, but there were telling bursts of personality in the last two acts.

Timothy Mix brought a big, colorful baritone and abundant expressive fire to the role of Marcello, the painter hung up over the flirtatious Musetta, portrayed here with great warmth by Colleen Daly. Her creamy, radiant tone paid dividends all evening.

Eric Greene proved to be a most engaging Schaunard, with his deep, hearty baritone and animated articulation. Christopher Job's soft-edged sound prevented his Coat Aria from registering fully, but it was eloquently shaped.

Michael Ventura summoned sufficient vocal variety in the dual assignments of landlord Benoit and sugar daddy Alcindoro. The chorus produced a rich, cohesive sound.

Conductor Steven White brought his usual sensitivity to the proceedings — his broad tempo for the opera's final moments proved especially compelling — but he had occasional trouble keeping stage and pit coordinated.

Things should be smoother for Sunday's repeat performance, when the Baltimore Symphony is likely to sound more settled, too. There were a few startling accidents on Friday, but, even so, the orchestra proved to be a major asset, unleashing the romantic richness of Puccini's ingenious score.

Director Bernard Uzan's conventional approach is not without its fresh tweaks to the action, such as the sight of the bohemian brethren confronting their landlord with vampire repellents. And, throughout, Uzan draws natural acting from the singers; the Act 4 rough-housing by the guys not only looks genuinely spontaneous, but pretty funny, a rare thing in "Boheme" productions.

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There are some missteps — Musetta starting her aria downstage center, concert-style; the chorus emitting a tacky "Ah" when Musetta and Marcello kiss. And, while the idea of creating a tableaux of closely gathered mourners besides Mimi's bed is effective, their loud sobbing is not.

All things considered, this "Boheme" serves Puccini well and, above all, gives notice that Lyric Opera Baltimore has accomplished something extraordinary.

With a recession still clutching at the heels of arts organizations everywhere, this company has emerged credibly from the ashes of the old Baltimore Opera Company in record time. There's no telling how far it could spread its wings if it could generate more support.

FILE PHOTO

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