'La Boheme' filled with memorable melodies


Young artists will freeze and starve, revelers from the bohemian quarter of Paris will party with a vengeance at the Cafe Momus, and some of the most beloved opera melodies will come resplendently to life this weekend at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

What this all means is that La Boheme, Giacomo Puccini's operatic tale of star-crossed lovers Mimi and Rodolfo, will be presented by Annapolis Opera as the first complete production of the company's 29th season.

Ronald Gretz will take the podium at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday to conduct a famous score studded with soaring arias including Rodolfo's rapturous "O soave fanciulla," the ill-fated Mimi's song of self-introduction, "Si, mi chiamano Mimi," and the vampish Musetta's alluring "Quando men vo."

"God touched me with his little finger and said, 'Write for the theater, only for the theater,'" Puccini once said.

As the immortal melodies roll by with such astonishing regularity, it's hard to argue with that the composer's self-assessment.

"Even people who don't know anything about opera can recognize his melodies," Gretz says. "There are memorable tunes all over this opera. Even recitatives, which can be pretty unmelodic when other composers write them, sing out in this opera."

Making her Annapolis Opera debut as Mimi is soprano Marcia Ley, who has sung the role with several companies, including Opera North of Vermont and the National Lyric Opera.

Also making his first Annapolis appearance is tenor Scott Priest, who was named Outstanding Artist of the Year by the Virginia Opera Guild last year. Before singing the role of Rodolfo in this production, Priest was active with Opera International and the Baltimore Opera.

Soprano Jennifer Ayres, who recently completed a summer of performances with Opera North, will sing the role of the seductive Musetta. A resident artist with the Connecticut Opera, she has sung with the New York City Opera and will soon be appearing in a European made-for-TV film on the life of operatic composer Giuseppe Verdi.

Playing Marcello, the well-intentioned painter smitten by Musetta, will be baritone Andrew Krikawa, who has sung the role with the Pensacola Opera and recently performed in Massenet's Werther.

Schaunard the musician will be sung by baritone Christopher Hutton, and the philosopher Colline will be played by Annapolis Opera regular Christopher Flint.

"They're all wonderful young singers," Gretz says, "and they're nice people, too. We've had a great time putting this thing together."

Tickets are $48. The public is invited to a pre-opera dinner and lecture at Maryland Hall before Friday's performance. Tickets for the dinner are $36.

A pre-opera brunch will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, also at Maryland Hall. Admission to the brunch is $22. Tickets for La Boheme and for the pre-opera meals are available by calling Annapolis Opera at 410-267-8135, or through the company's Web site at www.annapolisopera.org.

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