LA BOHÈME is an opera about little things. Neither the subject matter nor the characters have any involvement with kings, queens, or political intrigue. The bohemians—poet, painter, philosopher and musician—are concerned with their artistry and their daily bread. The leading lady sings about the embroidery of flowers and rose-colored bonnets. Atlanta Opera presented Puccini’s masterpiece at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre with just the little things in mind (seen Oct. 11). The attention to visual, aural and dramatic detail in the stage direction of AO general and artistic director Tomer Zvulun brought vitality to what might have been just another sleepy Bohème.
The production, created for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, boasts sets and projections by Erhard Rom and gorgeous costumes by designer Martin Pakledinaz. The setting was updated from 1830s Paris to that century’s final decade in order to highlight Puccini’s era, a period remarkable for the advent of flash photography. The sets were flanked with panels depicting black and white, turn-of-the-century cityscapes. Zvulun likewise incorporated a photographer within the busy Café Momus scene who photographed the happenings with miniature pyrotechnics.
Conductor Arthur Fagen and the Atlanta Opera Orchestra created a lovely support for the singers. Dynamic contrast and musical gestures went hand-in-hand with Puccini’s verismo soundscapes.
The lovers at the center of the opera, Rodolfo and Mimì, were sung by Gianluca Terranova and Maria Luigia Borsi. From the moment Borsi entered the crumbling garret on Christmas Eve it was clear that the pair was compatible vocally and dramatically. After the racconto di Rodolfo stopped the show and Mimì had sung her first aria, the ensuing duet, “O soave fanciulla,” sealed our suspension of disbelief. We were reminded of what love at first sight is like.
Italian tenor Terranova’s onstage persona was affable; he moved like a dancer and could pull off subtle moments of comedy unexpectedly. Terranova’s highly placed, ringing voice blossomed on the high B flat at the end of his aria and he was able to impressively taper the high C of the duet with Borsi. Maria Luigia Borsi’s performance was most eloquent from start to finish as well, yet her vocal prowess was best displayed in Act III, when Mimì enters into the square from the Rue d’enfer.
Zvulun reimagined The Café Momus scene as a highly choreographed series of events leading up to Musetta’s waltz. Musetta, played by soprano Leah Partridge, is a grisette or working girl who craves the limelight; Partridge’s great showmanship made her Musetta frenetic and exciting. Zvulun cast promising young singers as Rodolfo’s trio of friends, Marcello (Trevor Scheunemann), Colline (Nicholas Brownlee), and Schaunard (Theo Hoffman). Scheunemann seemed the most seasoned of the three, his lovely timbre and dramatic timing creating the glue for each ensemble scene. —Stephanie Adrian