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Archive for Wednesday, March 7, 1990

OPERA PERFORMANCE DISPLAYS MUSIC WELL

March 7, 1990

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The ending of the opera "La Boheme" in one way is a lot like the conclusion of "Pride of the Yankees" you can't help feeling very, very sad over the deaths of the opera's good-hearted Mimi or the movie's good-hearted Lou Gehrig.

In "Pride," your tears are driven by the love of baseball. In "Boheme," the beautiful Puccini score and the youthful exuberance of the four starving artists make the ending, as the poet Rodolfo watches his lover die, all the sadder. It's the irresistible artfulness of the opera that separates it from the schlockiness of the movie.

The New York City Opera Touring Company production of "La Boheme" that played Tuesday in Lawrence showed off Puccini's music very well.

The plot, set in and around 19th century Paris, concerns the up-and-down relationship of Rodolfo and Mimi, the latter a sickly beauty Rodolfo cannot support.

AS MIMI, Geraldine McMillian had some trouble in the lower register, probably because of the always difficult Hoch Auditorium. But her higher notes resounded with a richness of tone that gave Mimi a certain strength despite her illness.

As Rodolfo the poet, Martin Thompson's strong tenor filled the auditorium, which for Hoch is something of an achievement. Also in strong voice were Joan Gibbons, as the flirtatious Musetta, and Jeffrey Blaine Kneebone as the painter Marcello.

As for the staging, the touring company production seemed to lack focus at key moments in the opera. In the first act, Mimi foreshadows her entrance by appearing at the door and lighting a candle. Meanwhile, five other singers are trying to establish characters and make people laugh, but the audience's attention is drawn to Mimi. The moment takes away from establishing the characters of the four bohemians and diminishes the effect of hearing Mimi's theme for the first time onstage, just as she and Rodolfo meet in their garret.

IN THE second act, a joyous scene in a cafe, the director lets a chorus member with a large wooden frame on his back detract from the action inside the cafe. In that scene, Musetta re-seduces her painter-lover during one of Puccini's most famous arias. But the company here goes for broad, slapstick laughs, making the action look more like a Carol Burnett sketch.

The staging problems didn't detract much from the beauty of the doggedly romantic music, sung with great ability by the principals.

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