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.
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:
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 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".
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.
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.
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.
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:
- La Boheme @ Portland Opera
- Rent in Portland with Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal – A Review (based on La Boheme)
- Live Blogging Rigoletto