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Portland Opera La Boheme Live Blog

September 25, 2009 1 comment
La Boheme Live Blog

La Boheme Live Blog

Prologue:

Live Blogging is insanity. It’s the antithesis of well thought out and well reasoned criticism. When I regularly review a piece of art, theater or opera I let things sit, I chew on thoughts and impressions and then I synthesize it all down into a cohesive flow which tells a story in its own right. So this live blog isn’t meant to take the place of a true formal review it’s a completely different animal, a wild animal…

So why do it? Because it’s extremely challenging and exciting and gives you the reader a much different view to the whole experience. You get my unfiltered, unedited, off the cuff reactions to the things I see and hear. Often those things are brutally honest, and immanently immediate. Our live blog from last seasons’s production of Rigoletto was a ton of fun, and very well received. So I’ve decided to give it another go, this time with opera’s most frequently produced and beloved La Boheme. I will be updating this post after every act and then at the end of the show with our thoughts. I’ll also be twittering from the show @OnPortland. (and even broadcasting on UStream). Also because this is live, please excuse any typos, odd grammar and other omissions, I’ll do the very best we can, but time is not on our side.

Prelude:

With over 100 people in the company for La Boheme, the Portland Opera’s production is a huge undertaking. Add 25+ tech people, a dizzying array of props and then spread that over four acts and you’ve got one massive show.

As part of the Blogger’s Night at The Opera we were given a behind the scenes tour.

Here’s a pictorial look behind the scenes of  Portland Opera’s La Boheme:

Watch our behind the scenes tour from with production manager Laura Haskell Portland Opera’s La Boheme:

ACT I:

La Boheme Act I Mimi (Kelly Kaduce) and Rodolfo (Arturo Chacon-Cruz)

La Boheme Act I Mimi (Kelly Kaduce) and Rodolfo (Arturo Chacon-Cruz)

This is my first time seeing La Boheme (even though it’s one of the most popularly produced operas out there), but I can’t but help have a sense of deja vu. Knowing that Rent is based on this opera I had the parallel characters/timeline in my head. Wouldn’t it be cool to see Anthony Rapp or Adam Pascall doing the opera version? Even though they’re both fantastic singers I don’t know if they could handle the amazing lyrical load that Michael Todd Simpson (Marcello) and Arturo Chacón-Cruz (Rodolfo) both do.

The opening scene is pretty light and fun, it really gets going when Rodolfo (Arturo Chacón-Cruz) meets Mimi (Kelly Kaduce). Chacon-Cruz is the strongest singer of the bunch but the magic really happens when they sing “O soave fanciulla” (watch a video clip from the live production of this song). Together they are captivating, even when they trail off stage at the end of the act. Wherever they are going, we want to follow them.

The sets for Portland Opera’s La Boheme are fantastic. Since La Boheme is such a popular opera, Portland Opera had its pick of several sets and I think they made an excellent choice (The sets originate from the San Diego Opera and the costumes from San Francisco Opera). I really like how the set frames the space, it gives a sense of a city outside of the loft that Marcello and Rodolfo share without overpowering them. Also unlike Rigoletto I think the lighting is spot on here. Sets the scene and then keeps it. When Mimi and Rodolfo are doing their back and forth with their candles, the lighting matches it perfectly.

I’m also struck by the sheer number of props in this opera, they fill the stage and really help make it feel alive. It’s an interesting duality of a very operatic stage with sharp angles and dramatic spaces but one that has a subtle life to it. Act I’s staging is also pretty monochromatic but it’s done without feeling murky.

Musically the orchestra is extremely solid, they seem to really enjoy taking off with full gusto and La Boheme gives them ample opportunity to do just that. You can hear that when the music builds, the orchestra is happy to step in the spotlight and be the star.

Act I moves into Act II with out an intermission. It’s a huge stage transformation between acts and it’s executed well, without too long a wait in the dark and certainly a lot less time waiting than with Rigoletto.

ACT II:

La Boheme ACT II Spectacular

La Boheme ACT II Spectacular

Act II of La Boheme begins with a bang! There are over a hundred people to start the act. It’s overwhelming. Fantastic at first but ultimately as the act goes on it’s just too many people. I would have liked to have seen about half the people on stage as so many are lost in the crowd. Literally there are people six or seven layers deep here. With 20+ kids, many of them are lost in the shuffle. I’m sure there are several frustrated parents who will have to look real hard to spot their little performers.

The numbers are overkill and they musically don’t come together. With a chorus that size I’d expect fireworks and we get sparks but not what I’d hope for if you’re going to have a stage that packed.

Alyson Cambridge (Musetta) is so wonderfully over the top in everything she does that she steals this act. It doesn’t hurt that she’s in a lavish yellow dress. She owns every ounce of Musetta and her lavish attempts to make Marcello jealous. Musically the second act zips right along. Conductor Antonello Allemandi seems to enjoy letting his performers be the focus and supports them excellently. I particularly enjoyed the finale of this act with the marching band and parade, it’s a celebration and it’s done very well.

A side note, I’ve been asked several times by people tonight if I am an ‘Opera Person’ to which I’ve replied “I’m here aren’t I?” I think that someone can go to an opera and not define themselves as an opera person per se. There still seems to be a part of the culture who sees opera as a very specific thing, something you’re either a part of or not. This is a mistake. I’d love to see people who don’t attend opera be welcomed with open arms (and I think the Portland Opera itself is making great strides towards this with their blogger nights, pre show talks, Q&A’s and community events), after all opera doesn’t belong to anyone, it belongs to everyone even people who aren’t “Opera People”.

ACT III

Snow! The third act begins with a fantastic snowfall on a much darker and bleaker set. It’s jaring since we were just in the fun and colors of Act II. I feel like something’s been missed, there’s no real transition from revalry to dispair and we are left to wonder exactly has transipired between Rodolfo and Mimi. In many ways I felt like I needed an Act IIa to bridge the two acts narratively. I know people get testy when you pull apart great operas, and so I think it’s important to point out that even great composers can miss a beat here and there, and with La Boheme I wish there was something there to bridge the two.

Having said that, Act III belongs to Mimi (Kelly Kaduce) who does a fantastic job both with her solos and duets. Kanduce does something sublime as she sings from the shadows in response to Rodolfo’s declarations of wishing to end the relationship, it’s a physicality and quality of voice that really makes the scene. KellyKaduce shines the brightest here when her character is in decline walking the perfect balance between showing Mimi’s illness and the passion she still has for Rodolfo.

The duet with Rodolfo to close the act is simply divine. One of the highlights of the show so far, so much emotion, so beautiful and when they say they’ll stay together till the spring you truly don’t want the winter to end.

My only real gripe with this act (aside from WAY too many people on stage on Act II) is Michael Todd Simpson. His performance as Marcello Baritone isn’t bad but musically it’s just not great. In the quartet towards the end of Act III he gets lost in the shuffle. I like his voice and he has a nice stage presence, but I feel like he could open up just a little more. There seems to be more inside that isn’t coming out and I’d love to see it.

Still have visions of Rent in my head as I watch La Boheme and I appreciate even more that adaptation. Johnathan Larson seemed to see the spaces in between Puccini’s opera and filled them. Still I am thoroughly enjoying La Boheme in its own right, as its own thing.

ACT IV:

Mimi (Kelly Kaduce) and Rodolfo (Arturo Chacon-Cruz) Act III

Mimi (Kelly Kaduce) and Rodolfo (Arturo Chacon-Cruz) Act III

The act starts on a pretty jovial note (almost surprisingly given the tone of Act III), mirroring the first act, but it quickly turns as Mimi comes in dying from consumption. There’s a moment in the fourth act that is absolute proof that there are no small roles in great opera Gustav Andreassen delivers a phenomenal aria as Colline Bass that’s so compelling you can take your eyes off him. Forget about subtitles Gustav transcends the language and is absolutely perfect. One of the best moments of the night.

Another high point of this act is the return of Musetta (Alyson Cambridge) which Alyson plays much more reserved and down to earth than in Act II. Alyson is superb as she effortlessly displays both her emotional and vocal range, She and Gustav really seem to steal the show from Rodolfo (Arturo Chacón-Cruz) and Mimi (Kelly Kaduce). That is of course until the end.

Kelly Kaduce fades down her performance in this act with much of it coming from the bed. She is so quiet in the middle of the act that she occasionally gets lost in the strings. But the orchestra seemed so excited about the final refrain they can’t contain themselves. Musically the final refrain is amazing (worth seeing the whole show for). Watching Conductor Antonello Allemandi deliver that final refrain is extremely entertaining. Throughout much of the opera he’s been controlled, humble and subtle but like a cannon he literally explodes at the end.

Finale:

Overall I quite enjoyed Portland Opera’s production of La Boheme, It’s well staged, well performed and well conducted. There are some definite stand out performances including: Arturo Chacón-Cruz who is as good a Rodolfo as you can ask for; Kelly Kaduce whose take on Mimi I quite liked and who shined really bright both in her duets with Arturo and in the Act III; Gustav Andreassen and Alyson Cambridge who may have not had a lot of stage time but they both delivered monster performances (I don’t often recommend seeing a piece for the supporting performers but here it’s clearly warranted)

La Boheme has been called an excellent ‘starter’ opera and I can understand why, it’s fairly accessible, has a good mix of fun and tragedy and is musically quite enjoyable. Portland Opera’s production of this beloved opera is first rate and I’d highly recommend it for both “Opera People” and the rest of us who just might enjoy a good opera now and then.

Production Photos from Portland Opera’s Production of La Boheme

A special thanks to Julia Sheridan and Jim Fullan for making the Portland Opera Blogger nights possible. I think it’s a tremendous sign of just how committed the Portland Opera is to reaching out in the community and connecting with new opera viewers. I also encourage you to check out my fellow Opera Blogger’s and their thoughts on La Boheme: Marc Acito, Floyd Sklaver of Just Out, and Daryl Freedman (Portland Opera’s Studio Artist)

Portland Opera’s La Boheme runs at The Keller Auditorium September 27, Oct 1 & 3rd. Tickets are still available and they even have last minute rush for as low as $10!

For more information on Portland Opera’s La Boheme:

Categories: Opera, Theater Tags: ,

Live Blog From Portland Opera's Opening Night of Rigoletto

Rigoletto at The Portland Opera

Rigoletto at The Portland Opera

The only thing worst than a theater critic is a theater blogger. Good criticism is well thought out, reasoned and considered. I have mere moments to jot my thoughts about a production which dozens of people have toiled weeks and even months on.

Given that caveat, I can only really give my first impressions of Portland Opera‘s production of Rigoletto. Performance wise Mark Rucker is putting forward a very strong performance as Rigoletto pretty much eclipsing Richard Troxell, but both men are clearly upstaged by the sheer vocal beauty and presence of Sarah Coburn as Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter.  Coburn elevates ever scene she is in. For me the high point so far has been the duet between Gilda and Rigoletto.

I’ve had a few issues so far with the Portland Opera’s production of Rigoletto. The stage is murky and dimly lit. I understand what they are going for, but it doesn’t work. The dim stage seems to mute some of the performers on stage and in the second part of the first act after the opening number the chorus never quite is able to break out of the shadows.

The stage is also an issue. There was a huge pause between the first and second scene. Long at the point of being too long.  After touring the huge stage I can understand the issues they have with it. Hopefully the transition will go smoother the next performance.

But the Opera itself is enjoyable. I kept thinking about how Rigoletto gets cursed at work in the course of doing his job, how the issues of his work follow his home and impact his home life. Somehow this feels oddly timely. Should Rigoletto be punished for doing his job as a court jester? He’s hates the fact that he has to ridicule for a living and yet at the behest of the Duke he is forced to do it. Punished for a job he doesn’t want to do…But as a fool Rigoletto seems to be pretty sharp. Compare him to the fool in Hamlet and realize that Rigoletto is in fact a reluctant fool.

Perhaps Rigoletto is more the fool for thinking he can imprison his daughter and keep her from the world. Perhaps its this sin, the one of trying to control her that he’s ultimately punished for. Does his proximity to the Duke color his view of the world? Does he see all men as lecherous?

Like I said, these are the first things that run through my head as I watch this opera. I’ve found that I’m not reading the subtitles as much as listening and watching what’s happening on stage. I realize that I’m really drawn in when the emotion and presence of the actors is more important than ever word they say. Heck I can’t understand half the lyrics of songs I listen to on my iPod, why this need to have every word clearly defined.

The Opera is compelling and I’ll be interested to see how the next few acts are…

ACT II

The rough scene change of the first act clearly threw the performers off their game as the second act is noticeably stronger. Realized I totally forgot to mention the stellar performance by Keith Miller as Count Monterone. He’s on stage for mere moments and he’s simply fantastic. But the show is all about the duets between Rigoletto and Gilda. The opera revolves around them and the union of Mark Rucker, Sarah Coburn and conductor George Manhan is the real reason to see this opera.  Richard Troxell was much better in the second act with admittedly more to work with.

I feel remiss for not mentioning how much I’ve enjoyed the orchestration, the musical performance has been really solid. George Manhan makes you forget he’s there, nice to see a conductor so pitch perfect and so humble.

Story wise I find it interesting how Rigoletto sheds his role as the fool and tries to assume power, he shoes all the lords away and threatens his revenge on the Duke. The chorus says how you have to indulge children and madmen sometimes, but is Rigoletto either? Is the fool really able to have power? In the first act he sits on the Duke’s throne in mockery, but in act II he seems to have some real authority over the other men who seem mortified that the practical joke they plaid on him was not with his mistress but with his daughter. I love the moment they realize this, it’s the best moment with the chorus who all collectively seem to feel the same feeling at the same moment. Wish there had been more of that at the end of act I.

I love the line that Rigoletto delivers that talks about how much can change over the course of a day. What would have happened if Rigoletto just left well enough alone, listened to his daughter and accepted her love for the Duke? Is his undoing pride here?  At the top of the act it’s almost impossible to feel any sence of empathy for The Duke who thinks his love is gone, Are we being asked by Verdi to want the Duke to be dead. When you really think about it all Act 2 is pretty subversive. The Fool becomes the force of vengence and the Duke becomes the fool…  You know it doesn’t end well and yet when Rigoletto and Gilda sing together some how you wish that it could….

ACT III

The final act has all the juicy moments you go to opera for. It’s big and tragic. The one issue I have is that Richard Troxell never makes us believe that the women of Rigoletto would literally love the Duke to death. When Gilda dies in place of the Duke all I can ask is WHY? I mean she knows full well that the Duke is a womanizer. La Dona e mobile is practically an insult to women in general and the Duke professes his same “love” to Maddelen as he does to Gilda and yet she dies in his place. I can understand her trying to save her father from Sparafucile’s knife but The Duke?

Perhaps if the Duke were played more electrically we’d understand. But Troxell moves through the third act without the charisma we need to believe. He sings La Dona e mobile like it’s a greatest hits he’s had to sing over and over, but would rather be singing something else. It’s a critical moment lost. We’ve seen him profess his love to her in the first act and we needed to see him be both despicable and utterly irritable here. Maddelen sells it, Gilda sells it but the Duke doesn’t.

The high point of the third act for me is the quartet between Rigoletto, Gilda Sparafucle and Maddelen. Portland Opera’s staging of Rigolleto really comes alive outside of the solos. Heck it comes to life any time Sarah Coburn steps onto the stage.

I find myself asking… what if Rigoletto hadn’t waited to exact his revenge? He asks Sparafucile to wait to set up the hit on the Duke, is this a nod to the indecision that faced Hamlet. Had Rigoletto hired him in act one then Gilda wouldn’t have died!  And ultimately Rigoletto pays the ultimate price for his attempt at vengeance… Is Verdi siding with the royalty or covering up the subversive subplot, and what happens next?  Will Rigoletto have what it takes to face the Duke himself or is Gilda’s death his literal ruin.  A lot of stuff to chew on…

What strikes me the most is how in an opera mostly populated by male roles (and an all male chorus) it’s the women performers who shine the brightest. Both Sarah Coburn as Gilda and Jossie Perez as Maddalena are superb. While their characters fall blindly in love with the Duke, while Gilda is kidnapped and ‘ravished’ and ultimately killed, she’s still the strongest of the bunch…

In all, I enjoyed Rigoletto very much. I did have issues with the lighting, but in the face of everything else it feels like a nit. The show is worth seeing for no other reason than to see the union of Sarah Coburn, Mark Rucker and the Portland Opera orchestra. If Richard Troxell can up his game as The Duke during the run (and I truly believe he can)  it could really morph into something special, he’s the key to elevate this very good production to a really great one, if he can make us believe then it becomes something much bigger and profound.

Here are links to my fellow Portland Opera Bloggers and their take on the evening:

Other Portland Opera Rigoletto Links:

Categories: Theater Tags: ,