Annapolis Opera shines in 'Boheme' Company tackles taxing tale


Conductor Thomas Beecham once wondered whether opera's "creator would not have paused after the first experimental effort if he could have foreseen the incredible amount of trouble he was bringing into the world."

"La Boheme," Puccini's timeless tear-jerker, is an excellent example of what Sir Thomas was talking about, what with its numerous taxing roles, an exceptionally difficult orchestral score, and the endless logistical demands of street scenes, snowfall, toy vendors, military bands and sidewalk cafes.

So, all the more reason to congratulate the Annapolis Opera for last weekend's handsome production of the story of life's ups and downs in the Bohemian quarter of 19th-century Paris under the insightful baton of Ronald Gretz.

With excellent sets borrowed from the Tri-Cities Opera, the stage of Annapolis High School never looked better. Braxton Peters' staging was extremely effective. There was plenty of action to supplement the inevitable "clench your fists and sing" blocking.

But stagecraft is useless if the voices aren't there. By and large, they were.

Deborah Arnold and John Weber sang well in the roles of Mimi and Rudolpho. But they were upstaged a bit by Thomas Zielinski, a superb baritone whose virile, yet sensitive Marcello was the hit of the evening, and by Fleta Hylton's Musetta.

While lighter in timbre than most Musettas (she'd be great for Mozart), she sang wonderfully, especially in "Quando men vo," her Act Two blockbuster.

Ms. Arnold's Mimi was affecting, particularly as she warmed to the tasks of falling ill and dying in the later acts. Her "Addio senza rancor" brought out every goose bump in the house.

Mr. Weber sang sturdily and most credibly. If he was occasionally drowned out by the orchestra, let's remember that tenors who ring out high B-flats over entire orchestras tend to do so in New York, Vienna and Milan, not Annapolis.

Bravo as well to Jeffrey Buchman for his excellent account of Schaunard the musician.

Balance problems arose as the interplay of voices -- crucial in so many scenes of this opera -- was lost to the volume of the orchestra, the placement of characters and, occasionally, the variability of vocal talent on stage.

But this was, overall, quite an achievement for the local company.

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