Is there a need for arts criticism?

I am currently a correspondent for Opera News and have attached a link to my most recent review of The Atlanta Opera’s production of Puccini’s La Boheme

Is there a need for performing-arts criticism and what is its purpose?  Often reviews are helpful to those in the business who want to read about current productions, in order to keep abreast of who’s directing, conducting, and singing in them.  Listen magazine had a terrific article by Ben Finane in its Fall 2010 issue titled “Music in the afternoon.”  Finane describes how an arts critic should tell a true story of the recording or performance, “That story has the ‘how,’ the color and atmosphere and connoisseur’s detail to evoke the music, to prick a reader’s ears through their eyes, in a way.  The story also has the ‘why’, providing the context of trends and history.” 

As an arts writer and grateful audience member, I try to achieve that in each review that I compose.

La Bohème 

Atlanta Opera 

Atlanta Opera opened its thirty-first season with Giacomo Puccini’s evergreen La Bohème (seen Oct. 2).  As the red carpet rolled out for the flood of patrons who entered the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on opening night, there was no sense of gloom about the opera’s future, despite a reported 20% cut in the company’s annual budget and a 2010–11 season that will include only three productions, down from four.  Although it’s clear that AO’s momentum is stalled for the time being and sustainability the new benchmark for its success, the artistic values of this Bohème did not suffer.

To start, the creative team of AO’s 2008 La Cenerentola — director David Gately and conductor Gregory Vajda — was reunited to lead a promising young cast of bohemians.  Gately’s opening scene at the garret was charged with all the enthusiasm and camaraderie one could hope for thanks to a dynamic group of singing actors.  Likewise, Vajda did a fine job leading the AO orchestra with brisk tempos

Rodolfo was played by confident, open-hearted Bryan Hymel, who held nothing back vocally but unfortunately lacked nuance at times.  Timothy Kuhn’s solid characterization of Marcello anchored each scene.  Andrew Garland’s interpretation of the musician Schaunard was theatrical; he proudly strutted around like a peacock and was clearly the diva of the bunch.  Bass Matthew Curran sang Colline’s Act IV aria “Vecchia zimarra” with gravitas and incredibly lush phrasing. Atlanta local John LaForge gave fine performances of both the philandering Benoit and Musetta’s wealthy suitor Alcindoro.

Both principal ladies were fabulous. Mimì, played by Grazia Doronzio, is a recent graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist development program.  She has sung the role previously in Sassari, Italy, but truly her portrayal was mature beyond her years.  Doronzio’s singing is far from monochromatic: each phrase is imbued with poignancy and sparkling, pure vowels.  Jan Cornelius made her AO debut as Musetta and chose to portray her character as more pushy than flirtatious.  She gave a flawless performance of “Quando me’n vo” that ended with a thrilling decrescendo on the high B flat.

Emphasizing the poverty of the wannabe artists, costume designer Joanna Schmink coordinated the singers’ drab attire with accents of rose and orange.  Accordingly, Ken Yunker’s lighting design was gray and dark — no doubt to convey the drabness of a Paris winter — but it also made the facial expressions of the soloists and Walter Huff’s proficient chorus difficult to distinguish. 

The set, designed by Peter Dean Beck and co-owned by Memphis Opera and Arizona Opera, consisted of a slightly raked stage beneath a hovering platform that spanned the width of the performance space, with an impressive staircase leading upwards at house left.  All four scenes made use of this general setup, with slight variation in the paned windows above. Director Gately utilized the upper balcony sparingly in order to create varied pictures, but most singing up there was lost to the audience. spacer 


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