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Turning a new leaf...

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
09/14/2019 -  & September 22, 25, 28, October 2, 6, 2019
Giacomo Puccini: La bohème
Marina Costa-Jackson (Mimì), Saimir Pirgu (Rodolfo), Kihun Yoon (Marcello), Erica Petrocelli (Musetta), Nicholas Brownlee (Colline), Michael J. Hawk (Schaunard), Patrick Blackwell (Alcindoro), Robert Stahley (Parpignol), Todd Strange (prune seller), Reid Bruton (custom house officer), Steve Pence (sergeant), Shelby Pérez (solo child)
Los Angeles Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Roberto Cani (concertmaster), Grant Gershon (chorus master), Fernando Malvar-Ruiz (children’s chorus), James Conlon (conductor)
Barrie Kosky (stage director), Rufus Didwiszus (scenic designer), Victoria Behr (costume designer), Alessandro Carletti (original lighting designer)

LA Opera chorus (© Iko Freese)

Ushering in Los Angeles Opera’s (LAO) new 2019/2020 season ‘turns a new leaf’ in more ways than one. “Firsts” are in: Not only was a newly refurbished Music Center Plaza, to the tune of $ 41 million, unveiled last month, a first in 53 years, it also finds LAO discarding the dusty-old 1993 production for something meatier to chew on. Amidst all of this nouveauté comes no word on the operatic Domingo brouhaha...that will play out later.

LAO has stepped into warm water with Barrie Kosky since he’s been a semi-frequent visitor to The Dorothy Chandler beginning with Die Zauberflöte in 2013 and the double bill, Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle the following year. M. Kosky has ignited a new flame and views opera from a refreshingly new point-of-view.

Most La Bohème productions have become clichéd, and that’s exactly why M. Kosky should spark attention. He’s quoted: “You have to ask yourself: what do I not want to do?” But with this proverbial chestnut comes a discovery which, as one begins to peel away the music, the sets, the lights and the vibe, one will see how clever Barrie Kosky has been in his resuscitative efforts.

We have a stripped-down presentation, in the literal sense of the word, digging into Puccini’s verismo on the highest level. In another first, Rufus Didwiszus’ moody palette of charcoals, blacks and greys sets the undercurrent and seriousness of Henri Murger’s sketches. The viewer is planted into a telescopic tunnel of something grandly morbid. After all, mort bohème has no compromises. That’s where M. Kosky drives the point across into a cascading maelstrom of doom.

Vacuum-packaged, this production doesn’t fritter away excesses. It’s more economical, much like Puccini’s music. James Conlon’s (whose affectionately close ties to La Bohème began in early childhood) conducting is among the finest renderings ever heard at The Dorothy Chandler. For this reason, it makes the singers shine with poignant strength.

Saimir Pirgu hasn’t lost any of his robustness since his stellar Ferrando from 2011’s Così fan tutte. His connection to Marina Costa-Jackson is palpable, though the amorous connection is a ‘slow burner’, and it doesn’t necessarily initiate so quickly on a physical level. The aid of a view camera (the most pivotal prop in the Kosky arena) along with photographic plates acts as a permanent doormat into the characters at play in the four acts. Vocal might of Pirgu’s Rodolfo, Kihun Yoon’s Marcello, Nicholas Brownlee’s Colline and Costa-Jackson’s Mimì seize the drama from beginning to end. Michael J. Hawk’s Schaunard is too weak to match up against Conlon’s orchestra. The same can be said about Erica Petrocelli’s Musetta, even though her golden-honeyed voice is sweet and soft during the more intimate passages in the “Waltz.”

Victoria Behr reinforces Didwiszus (they’ve worked together in several productions) in the cloth, as the somberness bleeds into the stage with just cohesion. Initially, Act II’s Café Momus is thickened by humanity, but that is the exact reason M. Kosky treated it that way: Paris spins around the stage, focusing on the debauched and grim realities of street affairs. A condensed package it is: dizzying and hard to get an overall grasp of everything, but that is the point. Added to this is the ominously black-masqueraded children’s chorus. Here, Kosky takes Momus, the mythological god, literally, and foreshadows the finality of death.

Bleak as it might be, the way Barrie Kosky has thought this La Bohème through, is very brilliant and evocative. We are likely to see some more daring presentations to come. In fact, his Die Zauberflöte returns to The Dorothy Chandler in November.

Christie Grimstad



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