Months have passed since the last professional opera production in the Denver area and seemingly as long since the last rainfall during a long, hot summer. Last weekend brought a welcome end to both droughts as stormy skies accompanied Central City Opera's presentation of La Bohème.
Puccini's most famous work virtually ensures a good time at the opera house and this production is certainly no exception. A duly shabby apartment in Act 1 introduces us to our Bohemians: Eric Margiore (Rodolfo), who possesses a European-sized voice with a color reminiscent of Juan Diego-Florez, a pair of fine baritones in Troy Cook (Marcello) and Chris Carr (Schaunard), and a stunning Ryan Speedo Green as Colline. While the program lists Mr. Green as a baritone, he certainly fulfills the demands of Colline's bass role. His resplendent, rolling voice promises a bright future for this young singer; one wishes to hear him in a larger role – Dr. Dulcamara, perhaps, or Leporello.
Act 1 also introduces us to Elizabeth Caballero as Mimi. Fully invested in her role as a lonely seamstress, her shy flirtation with Rodolfo is just right in gesture and voice. Ms. Caballero's voice is strongest in its middle range and the moderate tessitura of Mimi is a great fit for her. Si, mi chiamano Mimi is an ideal aria for Ms. Caballero's expression of innocence, longing, and humility. Mr. Margiore's Che gelida manina was perhaps a bit dry by comparison, with a slight miss on the high C. But our two ill-fated lovers find a lovely blend on O soave fanciulla at the act's conclusion.
The chorus can make or break Act 2 and Chorus Master Adam Turner deserves kudos for a perfectly balanced torrent of voices that infuses the street scene with vitality. The stage at the Central City Opera House is relatively tight and can feel a bit cramped in the bustle of Act 2, but thoughtful placement of characters and well-coordinated movements ensure that the action is always easy to follow. Though her voice lacks a bit of the lushness needed to fully do justice to Quando m'en vo, Deborah Selig has a lot of fun as the fickle Musetta. Her exquisite fur and flannel coat with matching hat is the costuming highlight of the evening.
Act 3 features the finest singing of the night from Mr. Cook and Mr. Margiore, whose voice had warmed up and become a bit rounder and fuller sounding. The argument between Mimi and Rodolfo also gives Ms. Caballero a chance to show off her acting chops; her characterization draws the audience's attention even while others sing. The quartet with Mimi and Rodolfo's relationship drama contrasting with that of Musetta and Marcello is another highlight of the evening – well sung, well acted, beautiful and sad.
Mimi's death in Act 4 has never been as compelling to me as that of Violetta or Cio-Cio San but it is handled very well here. In fact the staging throughout is charming and inventive, from the coin-operated light in Act 1 which stands in for O soave fanciulla's moonlight to the 40s matinee idol staging of Quando m'en vo. A sole exception to the clever staging is the repeating motif of a harlequin with a rose, which was rather lost on me.
Conductor John Baril does a fine job with the orchestra, creating a seamless blend of sound at a moderately brisk pace with the violins perhaps a touch loud in the mix. Other highlights are Thomas Goerz in a dual role as the landlord Benoit and Musetta's aged paramour Alcindoro. Good comic timing is essential for both roles and Mr. Goerz succeeds ably, as well as possessing a lovely voice.
Central City Opera has created a fantastic Bohème with something for everybody: big numbers in Act 1, big and bombastic in Act 2, the big quintet in Act 3, and a small and intimate Act 4. A well-deserved standing ovation from the audience and then we bustled out into the rain, happy the drought was over.