Performance of 15 June 2017
Proctor and Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts

Opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto in Italian by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica

Conductor: Louis Langrée
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Cincinnati Opera Chorus
Chorus Master: Henri Venanzi
Cincinnati Boychoir Director: Christopher Eames

A co-production with English National Opera
Director: Natascha Metherell
Scene and costume designer: Isabella Bywater
Lighting designer: Thomas C. Hase
Hair and makeup designer: James Geier
Production stage manager: Megan Bennett

Mimi: Nicole Cabell
Rodolfo: Sean Panikkar
Marcello: Rodion Pogossov
Musetta: Jessica Rivera
Colline: Nathan Stark
Schaunard: Edward Nelson
Benoit/Alcindoro: Marco Nisticò
Young Boy: Abby Dreith
Customs Officer: Sola Fadiran
Sergeant: Samuel Smith

The Cincinnati Opera’s 98th season got off to a fine start with this opening night performance of Puccini’s popular repertoire staple. (Next Thursday’s performance will be La Bohème’s 100th in the company’s history.) One of yesterday evening’s biggest stars was in the pit: Louis Langrée, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director. Maestro Langrée has a wealth of experience in opera, having worked as a vocal coach and assistant at the Opéra National de Lyon and assistant conductor at the Aix-en-Provence and Bayreuth Festivals. That experience was evident both in the polished, nuanced playing he drew from his CSO musicians and the sensitive manner in which he supported the singers. For all the opulence of its sound, the orchestra was never allowed to overwhelm the soloists. The audience loved him, and it would be great – his other commitments permitting – if he could conduct Cincinnati Opera performances on a regular basis. The cast was uniformly excellent, with no weak links anywhere. Nicole Cabell (Mimi), whose career was given a significant boost when she won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition 12 years ago, is another audience favorite here, having previously appeared as Mozart’s Contessa, Pamina, and Donna Elvira as well as Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus with the CO. Her full lyric soprano has acquired a dusky, spinto quality, so that it sounds to me as though Puccini’s Tosca and Minnie may not be far off for her. Her lustrous voice paired well with the bright tenor of Sean Panikkar (Rodolfo), and both of them enunciated the text with crystal-clear diction. They had the high notes as well – hers often beautifully floated, his strong and secure. Equally appealing were Rodion Pogossov and Jessica Rivera as Marcello and Musetta, he with a warm, attractive baritone and she with a lovely soprano. The two really struck sparks in their scenes together, whether they were flirting or fighting. The other Bohemians were in capable hands with Edward Nelson (Schaunard) and Nathan Stark (Colline), the latter giving a touching account of the philosopher’s farewell to his coat with a rich basso cantante. Marco Nisticò showed real comic flair in his dual roles as the frustrated landlord Benoit and Musetta’s stuffed-shirt sugar daddy Alcindoro. A couple of Cincinnati Opera Young Artists, Brandon Scott Russell and Sola Fadiran, made cameo appearances as Parpignol and the Customs officer, respectively, with Queen City native Samuel Smith (Sergeant) and Abby Dreith (Young Boy) rounding out the cast. Kudos are also due to the wonderful Cincinnati Opera Chorus and the very well prepared members of the Cincinnati Boychoir.
Natascha Metherell directed Jonathan Miller’s original production from the English National Opera. Miller’s concept updated events from the Victorian era to the 1930s, and it generally worked. There aren’t too many elements in La Bohème’s plot or text that really tie the story to a specific time period, so it can support such an approach without the jarring effects of some other updatings where anachronisms are obvious. (I noticed that the projected translation skirted Marcello’s Act IV reference to Mimi riding in a carriage.) Isabella Bywater’s sets were visually appealing and cleverly designed to facilitate scene changes. In the opening and final acts, the audience saw a cross-section of the interior of the building in which the young people had their apartments, actually two separate structures that could be rotated independently. On one side of these structures were the two portions that joined to form the Bohemians’ domicile; on the reverse were representations of the Café Momus for Act II or other Latin Quarter buildings for Act III. The place where the four young men and Mimi had their flats looked very much like a 19th century industrial building, down to the large row of almost floor-to-ceiling windows, the transom over the doorway to the gents’ digs, a pedestal sink, and a long, narrow staircase leading up to the men’s loft quarters. The singers didn’t appear on the stage itself, but on the set’s elevated platform that functioned as the loft floor, and beneath which was another row of big, darkened windows. Ms. Bywater also gave the building a roof, which added some acoustical benefits. Singers’ voices didn’t disappear in the flies, but were directed by the overhead projection out into the auditorium.
At the conclusion of the performance, there were standing ovations for all involved, production team included.