Opera Verdi Europa's `La Boheme' slow to reach a warm, spirited pitch


Arundel Live


In the 110 years since its premiere, La Boheme has become one of the world's most famous - and favorite - operas.

It was discovered by mainstream filmgoers in the 1987 movie Moonstruck and by Broadway theatergoers in Baz Luhrmann's 2002 adaptation that moved the action forward from 1840 to 1957 Paris.

But Opera Verdi Europa's production of Giacomo Puccini's classic opera at the Bob Hope Performing Arts Center on Nov. 8 - the second offering in the Naval Academy's Distinguished Artists Series - was restrained and slow to come alive.

With its singers and musicians from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Moldavia, Ukraine and Russia, Opera Verdi Europa was established in 1996. This marks the third year the company has toured the United States.

Puccini's beautiful melodies tell the story of poet Rodolfo and seamstress Mimi and their Bohemian friends - painter Marcello and coquette Musetta - in a story of love found and lost.

Ideal for November staging, La Boheme is a winter's tale with repeated references to cold hands, muffs and overcoats. The opera begins on Christmas Eve and ends before spring.

Having enjoyed this opera many times in Baltimore, at New York's Metropolitan, in Annapolis Opera's production three years ago and at a 1997 Distinguished Artists Series performance, I was less enchanted with last week's presentation.

Bujidar Bonev conducted a large, excellent orchestra, supporting the on-stage artists. Contributing little was the uninspired simple set with costumes to match, suggesting the dictates of a small budget.

Act I lacked warmth and high-spiritedness. The male ensemble had little animation and at times was nearly inaudible. Mimi's entrance brought little excitement, although Simone Angippi as Rodolfo sang a fine "Che gelida manina," the first of three magnificent arias in succession.

Galina Stoyanova looked right for the part of Mimi, but her voice was thin and lacked emotion in the crucial aria "Mi chiamano Mimi." In the "Love Duet" that followed, Angippi seemed to lower his voice so as not to overshadow Stoyanova.

Act II in Cafe Momus became somewhat livelier, with Musetta arriving to sing her famous waltz that reignites Marcello's ardor. Although Dessislava Stefanova possessed stage presence and flair as Musetta, sparks were lacking in her encounter with Ivan Kabamitov's Marcello.

The performance came alive in Act III, with Stoyanova delivering the needed heartfelt pathos when asking Marcello to help her to leave Rodolfo. Angippi and Kabamitov were effective singing of Rodolfo's realization that Mimi was dying and his desperation at not being able to take care of her. Finally, Mimi's "Addio senza rancor," where she agrees to stay with Rodolfo until spring, was quite moving with Angippi and Stoyanova now becoming convincing as the tragic young lovers.

After a moving Act III, the final act was intensely dramatic to end the evening on a high note, making this performance a qualified success that was somewhat below the usually high standards of the Distinguished Artists Series.

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