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In Review > North America

La Bohème

SALT LAKE CITY
Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre
7/8/15

UTAH FESTIVAL OPERA & MUSICAL THEATRE opened its season with a satisfying performance of Puccini’s well-worn but beloved La Bohème (seen July 8). This is the third production of the work in the company’s twenty-two year history and the only opera on this year’s bill. The festival also features the musicals Carousel, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and Man of La Mancha—all running in repertory during a five-week season.

Stage director Daniel Helfgot succeeded in developing a heightened sense of intimacy with this production, gaining a head start with the theater’s narrow stage on which characters were nearly falling over each other during the busy Café Momus scene. But this claustrophobic condition aside, his direction spawned visceral character development among this young cast, helping them create honest emotional interaction—sometimes subtle, sometimes less so. 

The chemistry between Rodolfo and Mimì, sung by Peter Scott Drackley and Catherine Spitzer was the most compelling. Their relationship, born of coy glances and awkward advances, ended with the searing poignancy of Rudolfo’s final cries of “Mimì” over her lifeless body.  

Drackley and Spitzer, who were making debuts in their respective roles, showed vocal confidence—Drackley, during “Che gelida manina” and the duet, “O soave fanciulla,” his luminous head voice blooming with expansive and penetrating phrases, and Spitzer with “Si mi chiamano Mimì,” where her voice glowed.  

Gregory Gerbrandt as Marcello and Jamilyn Manning-White as Musetta provided a tempestuous counter-balance to Rudolfo and Mimi’s less demonstrative relationship. The couple’s handsome visage and adept vocal talents made their romantic jousting quite intriguing.

Gerbandt’s baritone warms with the arc of the phrase, and he calls on a variety of tonal hues. His third act furious departure from Musetta was a highlight. Manning-White’s entrance at Café Momus was everything one would expect: radiant, preening and shameless. And she delivered the vocal goods with an extraverted but thoughtfully shaped “Quando me’n vo’.” Her lyric soprano voice showed acute technical control and refinement.     

Bass-baritone Antoine Hodge as Colline and baritone Quentin Oliver Lee as Schaunard impressed with vocally secure and dramatically compelling performances. Hodge’s “Old Coat” aria was sonorous and touching. And festival regular Kevin Nakatani played the roles of Benoît and Alcindoro with his usual panache and resonant bass.

Conductor Barbara Day Turner led an impressively cohesive and tonally secure orchestra in an exquisitely well-defined performance with sensitivity to the singers’ needs. But tempi occasionally lagged and woodwind passages were sometimes inaudible. 

Detailed sets and backdrops by designer Jack Shouse had muted colors except for the second act’s Café Momus scene that was colored brilliantly—enhanced by Chris Wood’s well designed lighting. —Robert Coleman

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