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What? Again? You’d better believe it!

Olympia Theater
08/16/2014 -  & August 17, 2014
Giacomo Puccini: La bohème
Rodolfo Cuevas (Rodolfo), Oscar Martinez (Marcello), Diego Baner (Colline), Daniel Snodgrass (Schaunard), Ismael Gonzalez (Benoit/Alcindoro), Natalie Avila (Mimì), Beverly Coulter (Musetta)
Miami Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Pablo Hernandez (chorus master), Doris Lang Kosloff (conductor)
Raffaele Cardone (director), Stivanello/Somani (scenery design), Pam DeVercelly (costume design), Kristina Vellaverde (lighting design)

O. Martinez (Courtesy of MLO)

Only the snobs don’t look forward to another Bohème. And we all well know, don’t we, there are none of those in an opera audience. Shoot, there are even Bohème snobs who will tell you that no one was ever as good as Jussi, or Renata or Zinka (even if one of them never sang it; snobs know facts that we can’t always prove). La bohème has been a lucky opera for Miami Lyric Opera. Each time presented, it receives tremendous acclaim and attendance is at its best. What is it about this opera that creates near rock concert hysteria? This is the first time the company has presented it at the Olympia Theatre where seating capacity is more than three times that of the usually utilized Colony Theatre. And in spite of many residents fleeing the tremendous heat of a south Florida summer, they still packed them in.

Though not a perfect ensemble, the cast was quite solid and the direction crystal clear easily landing all of the libretto’s subtleties. The gifted conductor Doris Lang Kosloff had no trouble uncovering the beautiful depths of character in Puccini’s orchestration. By the second performance, the cast and orchestra were a significantly tighter team along with the ever maturing chorus that easily tackled the difficult second act. It is a shame that a few more performances could not be offered.

The weaknesses, though not earth shattering, prevented this from being as memorable as the last time Miami Lyric Opera offered it. Tenor Rodolfo Cuevas’ beautiful instrument unfortunately felt off pitch too many times for comfort and his acting ability is not nearly as nuanced as his comrades. Yet he had many moments of tenderness and was a very sweet Rodolfo. Beverly Coulter, lovely, with a pretty voice, is a curiously miscast Musetta. As we come to learn that Musetta is probably the noblest figure in the opera, we realize that being tough is what gives her such compassion. Coulter’s light soubrettish sound seems out of character.

But the rest of the cast was rock solid. Ismael Gonzalez realizes that the best way to present Benoît/Alcindoro is to simply enjoy doing them. Schaunard’s music lesson aria requires a true musician who is not afraid of being upstaged by the rest of the cast which gets more memorable music. Daniel Snodgrass, an unusually fine singing actor makes him essential to the spirit of the piece. Likewise, Diego Baner’s Colline is full of rich subtlety; his glorious “Vecchia zimarra senti” takes this slice of life from sad to tragic with a near breathless final “addio.”

Oscar Martinez gets the greatest praise for the males. Marcello can often steal this opera and had Mimì not been sung by the magnificent Natalie Avila, he would have. Their third act duet was the musical highlight of a performance with many outstanding moments. Martinez is so fully invested in the character that his every movement felt spontaneous. It might seem that Mimì would be inspired to forget Rodolfo and go for the mature (not necessarily older) man, but who can explain attraction?

Avila has done other roles with Miami Lyric Opera. At this point her voice is probably a size too small for Santuzza which she courageously offered last season; but her Suzel this past winter showed where her voice really belongs. A shrillness that was noticeable in the upper registers in Cavalleria and L’amico Fritz did not exist with her Mimì. This is the sort of singer whose future would be secure if we lived in an era where opera was still a rage.

Raffaele Cardone’s company continues to fight the tide that tries to destroy this art form that is like no other. With more productions like this one, he might win the battle for us.

Jeff Haller



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