MOT makes a meal out of Puccini's 'La Boheme'

By Michael H. Margolin

"La Boheme" is the comfort food of opera - you know what to expect, it goes down easily and it is very satisfying. In the production that Michigan Opera Theatre opened Saturday night, the waitstaff, the maitre d' and the entire food prep crew - if you don't mind a metaphor stretched to the limit - made it a tasty evening.

After seeing and hearing more "Bohemes" than I have fingers (and maybe toes) I find it still has the capacity to move me: Mimi and Rodolfo meet cute in a 19th century attic apartment in Paris' Latin Quarter; they go to a big blowout at the Cafe Momus on Christmas Eve with half of Paris joining in. There one of Rodolfo's chums, Marcello, reunites with his former lover, Musetta, who sings one of the opera's greatest hits, "Quando m'en vo'" that, like the rest of the opera, is surtitled.

In a cold February, Mimi and Rodolfo break up, in a beautiful snowy scene; then in the summer, back in the attic, Mimi enters wanly and with her fellow bohos at her side, she dies.

Boy meets girl, boy and girl part, girl dies - in four acts, nine months and just under three hours. And tears are shed, onstage and off.

As to my metaphor, here is the recipe that MOT used for this production: fresh, young talent well within the believable age range of the characters, an orchestra sounding like a Rolls Royce engine, and a production that is more intimate than many, emphasizing the characters and the drama without excess.

Originally created for l'Opera de Montreal, this production is nicely scaled, intimate - even the small attic is without the balcony where the roughhousing boys usually have their mock sword fight and the Cafe Momus scene seems like a charming place rather than a Las Vegas blowout so often seen in "Boheme" productions.

MOT's productions - for those with a memory - have showcased talents who have gone on to major careers such as Nicole Cabell, Charles Castronovo and Marius Kwieczen, most recently. This production has Kelly Kaduce, a major, rising star - she sang Donna Elvira last season in "Don Giovanni" and before that in the world premiere of "Margaret Garner" at MOT.

Kaduce's voice is capable of big, lustrous climaxes and small subtle vocalization - she can be so many things that one hopes she will not settle into a Puccini-Mozart rut without testing herself in Verdi. Her Mimi was subtle and beautiful of voice.

As her lover, Detroit debutant, Sardinian tenor, Francesco Demuro has a lovely lyric tenor, though it was not able to be heard well in the climaxes. But he is boyishly handsome and has a voice that can only sound bigger and better as time goes on.

As the remaining bohemians, Andrew Gray as Colline, Lee Gregory as Shaunard, both very young and just starting careers show a degree of acting chops and smooth vocalizing that bode well. In the dual role of the landlord and Musetta's momentary companion, Jason Budd was fine. The sergeant and the Custom House officer in Act III were Christopher Vaught and Edward Hanlon, respectively.

The last set of lovers, Musetta and Marcello, were brought to life by Kimwana Doner and Marian Pop. Pop, familiar to MOT audiences, was the lead in MOT's world premiere of David DiChiera's "Cyrano". A fine singing-actor, Pop was a mellifluous Marcello. Donor graduated from Cass Tech, then sang in productions of the University of Michigan School of Music Theatre and was in the second cast of MOT's "Don Giovanni" last season. She is developing into a first-rate dramatic soprano with good looks and acting acuity.

Those are most of the ingredients: stirred together by stage director Mario Corradi whose only false step was the rather vulgar ass wiggling he devised for Musetta at the Cafe; and conducting by Giuliano Carella (he thrilled with last season's "Tosca") who knows how to get the product on the table with panache. This is a "Boheme" to please the cognoscenti and the first-time operagoer as well.

Bon appetit!

REVIEW:

'La Boheme'

Michigan Opera Theatre at Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. Nov. 17, 19-21. $29-$121. 313-237-SING. http://www.MichiganOpera.org.

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