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In 'Boheme,' little moments carry big messages

January 24, 2010

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    January 24, 2010
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    Opera Carolina News

In 'Boheme,' little moments carry big messages

Sure, the floods of melody in “La Boheme” do the most to deliver the opera's thrills. But the quieter moments are where Puccini's tale of meteoric love can really grab the emotions. That's also where Opera Carolina's “Boheme,” which opened Saturday night, most rings true.

A few moments after Mimi and Rodolfo meet, she has a weak spell, then recovers. When Noah Stewart, playing Rodolfo, asks if she's feeling better, he reaches out with his voice as gently as one would with a hand. After Stewart and Sandra Lopez, who plays Mimi, come down from Puccini's first, romance-fueled flights of lyricism, they sing to each other with a sweetness that brings the story back to the heart-to-heart level.

The couple's romance all too soon falters, and they talk about parting. The way Stewart's voice draws in when Rodolfo asks himself, “So it's really over?” reveals that the affair means more to Rodolfo than he may have known.

Some “Boheme” casts rely on Mimi and Rodolfo to supply the poetry. Not this one. The philosopher Colline, one of Rodolfo's buddies, contributes his own share near the conclusion. As Colline says goodbye to the cherished overcoat he's about to pawn to help Mimi, Matthew Trevino lingers long and tenderly over the phrases that recall the visionaries whose books have been sheltered in the pockets. Conductor James Meena blends the Charlotte Symphony right in.

Of course, the romantic electricity of “Boheme” depends on Puccini's famously big tunes. Lopez and Stewart fling them to the rafters, but the effort shows. Lopez begins to sound pressed. Stewart's voice turns cutting. So they never quite generate Puccini's charisma.

His lighthearted side comes alive, though. When Rodolfo and his fellow bohemians cut up, John Hoomes' staging is inventive and animated, complete with a play-acting swordfight whose coup de grace is delivered by a baguette. Stewart and Trevino's lively comrades are David Won as Marcello, a painter, and Eric Greene as Schaunard, a musician.

Won's singing especially rings true during the scene at the Christmas celebration, when Marcello spots an ex-flame. Won etches every resentful word about her in acid. When she appears, though, the coquette Musetta doesn't live up to his invectives. Outside of the last flourish of her waltz, Elizabeth Williams-Grayson's voice hardly comes across the footlights. In opera, it takes more than a flaming-red dress to make a femme fatale.

The orchestra doesn't have the lushness that would let Puccini's glow fill the theater. But it brings out the sweetness and grace of the lyricism, the lustiness of the comic spots and the sparkle of the Christmas festivities. Meena and the orchestra also bring out charms that could easily pass unnoticed – such as the coziness of a little early morning banter among Parisian milkmaids. It's reassuring to discover that a beloved opera can offer new treats.

By Steven Brown

To read the original article, visit the The Charlotte Observer.