BWW Reviews: HGO's Splendid, Opulent LA BOHÈME is an Immaculate Production
Houston Grand Opera's production of Puccini's La bohème opening October 19, 2012. Photos are by Felix Sanchez, courtesy of Houston Grand Opera." src="http://images.bwwstatic.com/upload10/418600/fsanchez_101612_0864.jpg" alt="Dimitri Pittas (Rodolfo) comforts Katie Van Kooten (Mimi) in Act IV of Houston Grand Opera's production of Puccini's La bohème opening October 19, 2012. Photos are by Felix Sanchez, courtesy of Houston Grand Opera." width="300" height="200" />Houston Grand Opera is opening its 2012-2013 season with a lavish and fresh production of one of the world's favorite operas, LA BOHÈME by Giacomo Puccini. The familiar opera tells the story of four bohemian artists that live in the same garret (apartment) in 1830s Paris. The poet, Rodolfo, falls for Mimì, a seamstress suffering from Tuberculosis. His friend Marcello, a painter, has recently broken up with Musetta, but is still fascinated by her. In a series of short glimpses into their lives, the audience sees Rodolfo and Mimì fall into a deep, passionate love that is eventually troubled and torn asunder by Rodolfo's jealousies and concerns about her health.
John Caird, Tony award winning director of 1981's NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, directs the gorgeous production with finesse and ease. His production allows the audience to get swept away in the performances of his cast. It also highlights the youthful joviality of the piece, causing modern audiences to laugh at all of the humor that is present throughout the piece. Then, as the piece races towards its tragic finale, the audience begins to have their heartstrings tugged, inducing another set of poignant, sincere emotional reactions. For example, after the show's final notes have been played, one of the most powerful directorial choices is presented-leaving the audience and stage in complete darkness except for one flickering candle. Perhaps the best aspect of John Caird's direction is how simplistic it all feels. This is why the audience can legitimately react to the piece and get lost in the timeless score.
Evan Rogister emphatically and expressively conducts the opera, ensuring that the meaningful, thematic music is perfectly played and sung from beginning to end. Under his leadership, the music easily excites and engages the audience. The emotional complexity of the score wonderfully resonates under his direction, breathing remarkable life into the heart and soul of Giacomo Puccini's illustrious score.
As Rodolfo, Dimitiri Pittas, is fantastic. His rendition of Che gelida manina is rousing and heartfelt. Even without supertitles, the audience would understand and know the passionate love he is feeling for Mimì. Then, as Act I closes, his vocals on O soave fanciulla pierce the heart and soul, perfectly setting them up for heartbreak in the show's finale. Another standout performance from Dimitiri Pittas comes in the heartbreaking Act III quartet Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina!, as he tells Mimì that, despite the problems in their relationship, he will stay with her until Spring because people who are alone in Winter are sure to die.
Katie Von Kooten sumptuously and perfectly sings Mimì. She delivers powerful and standout vocals on Sì, mi chiamano Mimì, O soave fanciulla, and Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina!. Yet, it is her performance in Sono andanti? that fantastically and emotionally moves the audience and completes her masterful performance in the role. Mimì, as played by Katie Von Kooten, is fully realized and developed across all four acts, which makes her tragic end all the more impactful for the audience. As Rodolfo exclaims, "Mimì!" over her dead body, so does our hearts.
Musetta, adroitly played and sung by Heidi Stober is delightfully humorous in her flirtations. However, in Act IV, the audience gets the chance to see how generous and loving she is, revealing an emotionally mature side and tangible depth to her characterization. Each note she delivers is brilliant and sparkles, making every moment she is on stage both fascinating and enjoyable.
Joshua Hopkins as Marcello, Vuyani Mlinde as Colline, and Michael Sumuel as Schaunard all deliver magnificent performances as well. They each have their own standout numbers that are powerfully sung and stir the audience, such as Colline's Vecchia zimarra in Act IV. Each one helps to complete the major cast, finalizing the believable yet wholly romanticized touches on the life of artists in 1830s Paris.
The show also features a large ensemble and children's chorus that performs beautifully. They are left out of the show's curtain call, but should know that much of the applause booming from inside the auditorium is for them as well.
David Farley's set and costume design for the production are divine. The set design is wonderfully inspired and utilized well. It is compromised of oil paintings, possibly done by Marcello. For the garret, the audience sees the backs of these paintings, creating a sparse set. Where windows would be are lovely, and fully detailed scenes of Paris that appear to be crafted in oils. When the action takes place in the streets of Paris, this technique is utilized to create impressively detailed panoramic views of Paris streets. There are oil paintings of all different sizes stacked upon each other to create an illusion of the Latin Quarter (Act II) and tavern near the city gates (Act III).
The costumes David Farley has designed are period specific. Each piece is beautiful and lavishly detailed. No matter the class of the character, it is devastatingly and painstakingly conveyed to the audience through each miniscule and minute detail. No seam is overlooked, and every element of the costume design serves an obvious and well-appreciated purpose.
Michael James Clark has does a gorgeous job lighting the fantastic sets and the show, easily conveying emotion and realism in delicate washes of greens, blues, and ambers. Once the fire is burning in the stove in the garret, there is devotedly realistic light and smoke emitted from the set piece. Another shining example of the excellent design is when the candles have been blown out and Mimì and Roldfo are relying on the moonlight to light the garret. Like the costuming, no detail is left unused or unexplored. Therefore, no lighting cue seems inappropriate or disjointed.
Houston Grand Opera's splendid and opulent production of LA BOHÈME is an immaculate example of how talented this company is. Every element of the opera works in this production. Each note is played perfectly by the orchestra, sung beautifully by the cast, and gently lands in the hearts of the audience. It is easy to see why this opera is quite possibly the world's favorite opera. Also, it is nice to see the story that inspired RENT, which is a unique bonus in and of itself. Whether you've never seen it before or you've seen it innumerable times, this delicately nuanced and lovely production of LA BOHÈME is a must see.
Houston Grand Opera's production of LA BOHÈME runs at The Wortham Center through November 10, 2012. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.houstongrandopera.org/ or call (713) 228 – 6737.Photos are by Felix Sanchez, courtesy of Houston Grand Opera.
Vuyani Mlinde (Colline), Joshua Hopkins (Marcello), Dimitri Pittas (Rodolfo), and Michael Sumuel (Schaunard) have a drink with Hector Vásquez (Benoit, the landlord) in Act I.
Festive crowd celebrates Christmas Eve in the Latin Quarter in Act II.
Dimitri Pittas (Rodolfo) comforts Katie Van Kooten (Mimì) in Act IV.
Dimitri Pittas (Rodolfo) comforts Katie Van Kooten (Mimì) while Joshua Hopkins (Marcello) embraces Heidi Stober (Musetta) and Michael Sumuel (Schaunard) looks on in Act IV.