Vancouver Opera

La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini

Dates: 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 May at 20.00
: Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Reviewer: J. H. Stape


Conductor: Jonathan Darlington Director: David Gately
Chorus Director: Leslie Uyeda Set Designer: Claude Girard Lighting Designer: Adrian Muir Costume Designers: Claude Girard and Robert Prévost Stage Manager: Sheila Munn

Marcello: Jeff Mattsey Rodolfo: Theodore Green
Colline: Nathan Berg Schaunard: Alan Corbishley
Benoit and Alcindoro:Thomas Goerz Mimi: AiLan Zhu
Musetta: Kathleen Brett

Jonathan DarlingtonThe final production of Vancouver Opera's successful 2002-03 season, La Bohème is the quintessential operatic experience: love and death, a spectacular crowd scene, glorious melody after glorious melody.

This conventional staging--yes, Rodolfo loves Mimi, and is not secretly hankering for Marcello; the setting is Left Bank Paris struck with consumption, not SARS-afflicted Toronto; and the ending is a two-hankie event, not an ironic send-off--was serviceable, allowing the music to shine brightly. That said, this was a competent rather than soaring performance, the lion's share of distinguished music-making coming from Maestro Jonathan Darlington and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Justly acclaimed for her affecting portrayals of Cio-Cio San and Mozart's Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro for Vancouver Opera, AiLan Zhu sang correctly enough but never quite convincingly inhabited the role of Mimi, offering a carefully studied but essentially run-of-the-mill performance.

Her Rodolfo, upcoming American tenor Theodore Green, wavered in his role, acting well in the first and last act, but playing the stiff tin soldier in the second and third. His surprisingly Italianate sound gave idiomatic flare, but his large voice was strained in exposed sections and the top notes were effortful. Essentially attractive and particularly appealing in its mid-register, the voice shows signs of needing some retraining to find its natural range.





More consistently satisfying were the Bohemians: Jeff Mattsey offered an effective and tastefully sung Marcello; Kathleen Brett, a silver-toned and seductive Musetta, shone in the her big second act aria; and Nathan Berg delivered a powerful and impressive Colline, his dark bass filling the Queen E's cavernous space. Alan Corbishley's Schaunard was nicely characterized and pleasantly sung.

Musetta and AlcindoroThe first-act comic action was so successful that the audience seemed ready to laugh at anything and everything, perhaps a fault in the surtitles, which had a surprisingly vigorous Benoit being found 'in flagrante delicto' in a public venue. Guffaws thus marred the lead-in to the "O, soave fanciulla" duet, with Rodolfo's having "found his poetry" being interpreted as an occasion for inappropriate belly laughs. Any staging that finds the audience drowning out the final measures of each act with applause before curtain fall also needs rethinking.

Drilled to perfection, the chorus was stunning in the Café Momus act, also the evening's visual highlight in this highly traditional staging on loan from L'Opéra de Montréal. Vivid and bustling stage business made for second act that really worked. Under Maestro Darlington's magical baton, the orchestra gave a shimmering and stylish performance of the score, the plangent and dramatic sections alike receiving full value. The close collaboration between conductor and orchestra was never less than palpable.

Darlington's appointment as Principal Conductor is cause for celebration, and marks another notch in Vancouver Opera's steady upward climb of the artistic heights that General Director James W. Wright has set as its goal. Now for the challenge of less staid stage action and more inventive stagings of the standard repertoire that have long invigorated the European operatic scene.

2003, J. H. Stape