If Giacomo Puccini and his librettists had put the story of La Boheme to some focus groups, back in the 1890s, would this wonderful opera have ended as sadly and abruptly as it does?
The correct answer is, of course, yes. Mimi must die.
Because the entire trajectory of the four-act work, brought to life most charmingly last night by the Toledo Opera, is that in the midst of life, we are in death. And that, sadly, only when the end is near dare we open ourselves to the terrible and wonderful ambiguity of fulsome living.
The Valentine Theatre was packed last night and the audience appreciative of singing and acting by a mostly young but talented cast headed by the fine tenor Rolando Sanz (Rodolfo), his energetic cohorts Lee Poulis (Marcello), Colline (Sean Cooper), and Schaunard (Michael Krzankowski).
Think good-hearted pseudo-sophisticates, barely off the apron strings, and you can catch the sense of bonhomie in the opening quartet.
Enter Mimi, the embroideress from upstairs, asking, “Got a light?” but in much more stylish terms.
Although it seemed forced in this production, Mimi and Rodolfo hit it off -- speed-dating, Franco-Italian style -- and the romantic thread that weaves all four movements together was drawn from the spool. Would that there had been a more apparent spark between these two. Mimi, portrayed by Sujin Lee in her Toledo Opera debut, was nearly as flat dramatically as her voice. Lee’s singing, supple and well-balanced between registers, nonetheless lacked conviction and color. Only in the final scene did the voice suit the dying seamstress.
Can’t say the same about Musetta, played to the hilt by Jennifer Rowley, a young and robust soprano who shamelessly stole every scene she appeared in -- just as it should be. Rowley is a singer to watch and let’s hope she returns to Toledo.
In Jason Budd, a former TO intern, stage director Michael Capasso found a willing and very able player to carry out both campy roles -- Benoit the hapless landlord and Alcindoro, the even more hapless sugar daddy to Musetta.
The Toledo Symphony under James Meena was superb, the perfect musical engine to propel and support and enhance the onstage action. Bravo to that crew.
Michael Capasso’s staging was understated, but really just right for this opera. It would have been nice to see more activity onstage during Act II, but really, with the huge set and very large chorus, plus kids and extras, where would everyone have gone?
There’s another chance to see this lovely opera, at 2 p.m. Sunday. And for extra interest, the TSO’s assistant conductor Robert Mirakian will deliver a pre-opera talk at 1 p.m. in the Grand Lobby, free to ticket holders.
And please, arrive for the opera on time. Some extremely thoughtless ticket holders were seated DURING Act I.
La Boheme will be repeated at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Valentine Theatre. Tickets start at $30 at the door.