Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
The story finds us in early 1800s Paris, with leading male characters comprising four poor artists: poet Rudolpho; painter Marcello; musician Schaunard; and philosopher Colline. Add in love interests Mimi for Rudolpho and Musetta for Marcello and you have the cast of principals. The story is a bit episodic, but Puccini's sublime music keeps the audience in the know. The arc is Mimi and Rudolpho's relationship from beginning to tragic end.
William Davenport is a lively Rudolpho opposite the exquisite Mimi of Anna Mandina. Davenport has offered Sarasota audiences fine assumptions of The Duke in Rigoletto and both tenor heros in a twin bill of one-act comedies, so his full-voiced Rudolpho is no surprise. "Che gelida manina" is the stop-the-show highlight it is intended to be. Mandina's rise from studio artist to solid principal (previously Liu in Turandot) shows a potential regional star. Her deeply touching Mimi caught me a bit by surprise: The third act "Donde lieta usci" had me in tears. Filippo Fontana, the only native Italian in the cast, brings a nice touch of authenticity and stage presence opposite Jessica Sandidge's Musetta. Ricardo Rivera as Schaunard and Young Bok Kim as Colline complete the principal cast. Among the lesser roles, Adelmo Guidarelli contributes a well-acted landlord Benoit, and Joseph Beutel a cuckolded Alcindoro, enamored with Musetta.
Conductor Victor DeRenzi lovingly presides over this performance, allowing the music to spin out with full emotional impact. His orchestra plays brilliantly for him, the flute trills that define Mimi's yearnings for spring are gorgeously laid into the orchestral texture. Hundreds of other details caught my ear throughout the evening.
A large round of applause goes to stage director Mark Freiman. All of the principals act well, within the known limits of opera acting. His finest moment is in act two, with the stage brimful of chorus, children's chorus, and at the very end drum and bugle, as he creates organized chaos after which everyone moves off stage gracefully. The entire production raises the bar for Sarasota Opera, as a few of the recent productions have not been acted on this level.
Scenic designer David P. Gordon's sets from 2005 are beautiful. The garret for acts one and four feels small and in fact does not utilize the entire stage space, the inner acts equally authentic. It is traditional but not dull. Howard Tsvi Kaplan as costume coordinator, using costumes recently purchased from Malibar, has everyone appropriately dressed, with a stage full of color. Ken Yunker lights with a sure hand, a world of difference between act one winter and act four spring in the garret.
Novice or opera fanatic, this is a fine La Bohème. Sarasota Opera does itself proud.
La Bohème runs through March 21, 2020, at Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information call 941-366-8450 or visit www.sarasotaopera.org.
Cast (in order of vocal appearance):