Vancouver Opera

Puccini's La Bohème

Dates and Venue 26, 29 April and 1, 3, 6, 8 May 2008 @ 7.30 pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Rodolfo Roger Honeywell Mimi Frédérique Vézina Marcello Aaron St Clair Nicholson Musetta Monica Huisman Colline Daniel Okulitch Schaunard Alexander Dobson Benoit Terry Hodges Alcindoro Terry Hodges

Conductor Jacques Lacombe Director Henry Akina Sets Peter Dean Beck Lighting Steve Ross

Reviewer J H Stape

This year sees the 150th anniversary of Puccini's birth, not that opera companies need an excuse to mount the composer's work, let alone La Bohème, perhaps the most beloved, most often given opera in the whole repertoire.

For the afficiando, it is an opera one moves beyond, while for neophytes it is opera, but it always seduces no matter how often heard: the mixture of laughter and tears is like life itself.

This worthy production, on loan from Hawaii Opera, gets the balance right: the high-jinks and the tugs on the heart are deftly negotiated, and the unfussy set functional .

There's no mucking about, nor is there anything much new, aside from Mimi's very early entry on the staircase, and the clever emphasis on Christmas at the close of the Café Momus scene, the military tatoo being sent up by Père Noel and the Three Kings (so they seem, if a bit early on Christmas Eve).

The singing is deft and committed, the Bohemians accounting themselves well in the acting department, too. Frédérique Vézina, in her VO début (she's a veteran at Pacific Opera Victoria) makes an affecting Mimi, her joie de vivre restrained and her sorrows worn on her heartsleeve. She sings with passion.

As her lover Rodolfo, Roger Honeywell gave a strangely mixed performance: the voice is essentially attractive and large, but he was either having real breathing problems, particularly in the first act ("Che gelida manina" courted outright disaster) or has developed a fatally irritating mannerism of cutting the ends off lines. There was also more "can belto" than "bel canto" at moments, with a marked tendency to troppo forte.

Aaron St Clair Nicholson was a fine and handsome Marcello. A good actor, he possesses a honey-ripe voice always in control and expressively communicative. The lesser roles were ably filled by Alexander Dobson as Schaunard, the musician, and Daniel Okulitch as Colline, the philosopher.

Terry Hodges, a first-rate singing actor, made the most of his two roles: a more than usually genial Benoît, the landlord, he was also an effective Alcindoro, the old geezer would-be lover of Musetta, nicely sung by Monica Huisman, whose lively performance as the tart-with-a-heart avoided clichés.

Conductor Jacques Lacombe rather rushed proceedings from the pit at moments, the performance one of high energy but with some consequent loss of subtle detail, wherein Puccini's true genius lies.

At this late stage in La Bohème's life -- the opera first saw the boards in 1896 -- it's hard to say much new about it, and this production happily avoids a descent into gimmickery while plumbing the work's vital heart.

This, then, is a pleasant evening in the theatre, with Vancouver Opera delivering a sure crowd-pleaser, and if there's no novelty or real illumination, there is relentless attention to detail and real commitment to the music and drama.

© 2008 J H Stape