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Belle Époque Bohème

McCarter Matthews Theater, Princeton, NJ
06/21/2008 -  and June 27, 29
Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
Nicolle Foland (Mimì), Adam Diegel (Rodolfo), Marcelo Guzzo (Marcello), Jennifer Zetlan (Musetta), Matthew Hayward (Schaunard), Stephen Bryant (Colline), Jason Budd (Benoit/Alcindoro), Jared Salwen (Parpignol), Brett Algaier (A Sergeant), Brandon Tishim (A Customs Official), Joel Pena (A Boy)
Carolina Bamgoa-Hayes (chorus master), Dawn Golding (children’s chorus director)Richard Tang Yuk (conductor),
Steven LaCosse (director), Allen Charles Klein (set designer), John Lehmeyer (costume designer), Benny Gomes (lighting designer)

S. Bryant (Colline), A. Diegel (Rodolfo), N. Foland (Mimi)
(© C. J. Huang/Courtesy of Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival is celebrating the Belle Époque with a program that combines theater and jazz music with chamber music, an organ concert and a competition for young pianists. At the center of the festival is a production of Puccini's La Bohème. On opening night, the festival's handsome production projected the youthful energy coursing through Puccini’s music. The cast boasts no starry names, but the singers catch the spirit of the score in their fervent performances.

Guiding Saturday night's premiere was the festival’s artistic director, Richard Tang Yuk. From the opening measures, the conductor took control of Puccini's score. Drawing nuanced and precise playing from his orchestra, Tang Yuk paced the performance well and highlighted the instrumental colors in Puccini's music.
Adding to the impact are Steven LaCosse's vital staging, John Lehmeyer’s attractive costumes and the handsome settings of Allen Charles Klein. From the Bohemian's garret to the Café Momus and the Barrière d'Enfer, Klein captures the spirit of the opera in his evocative settings. His detailed scenery conjures up memorable stage pictures, enhanced by Benny Gomes’ lighting. Klein sets his production at the time Puccini's opera was premiered in 1896. So what is an upholstered 1950s chair doing in the Bohemians' garret?
LaCosse, like the set designer, provides an attractive, straightforward staging of Puccini's opera. He fills the stage with lively movement in the second act and plumbs the deep drama in the third when Mimi is reunited with her lover in a scene guaranteed to sear the heart when it is sung and acted with intensity.

Soprano Nicole Foland (Mimì) and tenor Adam Diegel (Rodolfo) open up their voices with thrilling impact. Foland catches the heartbroken despair in Mimì's duet with Marcello. Diegel voices Rodolfo's anguished concern for Mimi in ringing tones. Foland and Diegel are at their best when they are singing at full tilt. The soprano's edgy voice sounds less impressive in the more lyrical moments. So does the tenor's.
The big cast has no weak links. The Bohemians are played with vital spirit by Marcelo Guzzo (Marcello), Matthew Hayward (Schaunard), and Stephen Bryant (Colline). All three sing and act capably.
In Musetta's big scene in the Café Momus, Jennifer Zetlan lights up the stage with her fearless singing and spirited acting. But she, too, does not command a voice of much tonal appeal.

Robert Baxter



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