Opera review

Pittsburgh Opera stages attractive, pleasing 'La Boheme'

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Tenor Eric Barry was already going to play Rodolfo in one mainstage and one student performance of the Pittsburgh Opera production of Puccini's "La Boheme," running at the Benedum Center through Sunday.

But when first-string tenor David Lomeli withdrew for undisclosed reasons, Mr. Barry was tasked with three additional performances, including opening night on Saturday.

Pittsburgh Opera 'La Boheme'
Where: Benedum Center, Downtown.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $12-$195; 412-456-6666 or www.pittsburghopera.org.

Having already been scheduled for two shows would be beneficial to anyone asked to fill in for such a large role. But Mr. Barry deserves kudos for a solid, if not particularly revelatory, performance. It paralleled the production's overall impact: While its singing and staging didn't plumb the opera's full emotional depths, the production didn't float on the surface either.

"La Boheme" provided an early opportunity for Mr. Barry to show off his pipes in "Che gelida manina," when the poet declares his love for Mimi (Leah Crocetto, making her debuts both with Pittsburgh Opera and as Mimi). The tenor demonstrated a warm, bright tone and consistent, albeit safe, voice. The sentiment of the aria was filled out by the orchestra and by the singer's strong high C.

Elsewhere in the first act, Mr. Barry developed a convincingly fraternal rapport with his buddies, Marcello (Troy Cook), Colline (Pittsburgh Opera resident artist Phillip Gay) and Schaunard (Dimitrie Lazich). Ro-dolfo's connection with Mimi was not immediately compelling, although it got better in later interactions.

As Mimi, Ms. Crocetto had a plump, full tone in "Mi chiamano Mimi," even if it was inconsistent. She had the strongest vocal projection in the cast, overpowering Mr. Barry in the end of the opening act but also exposing some intonation problems.

Still, Ms. Crocetto's performance was successful, and it improved as the evening went on; her depiction of Mimi's suffering became more persuasive and her voice more reliable. Despite the soprano's capacity for volume, her voice was most impressive when she delivered quiet, controlled dynamics, as in a beautiful act III duet with Marcello, and a shimmering vibrato in "Donde lieta usci."

For his part, Mr. Cook showed off the multiple sides of Marcello. He played an equally comic counterpart to Musetta but still lent vigor to his character with powerful vocals, particularly at the end of the festive second act.

As Musetta, Sari Gruber was funny and seductive, all the more so with an over-the-top scream as her character complained of a fake foot injury. She delivered an attractive rendition of the waltz aria, although she smoothed out some vocal lines.

Kevin Glavin drew laughs in playing the two basso buffo roles of the landlord Benoit (clad in a strange wig and smock) and Musetta's rich suitor, Alcindoro. As Colline, Mr. Gay showed off a rich tone in the coat aria, but he lacked a flexible dynamic range.

Conducted by music director Antony Walker, the orchestra captured the score's diverse emotional character even when the singers did not, although it got separated from the vocalists during the second act.

The attractive set, designed by Michael Yeargan, appropriately reflected a bohemian sensibility: earthy colors splashing on a fixer-upper apartment in the first and final acts; a grand, cleverly set Cafe Momus in the second; and a lonely tavern in the third.

The stage direction by Tomer Zvulun and Helena Binder was best during a merry, visually appealing street scene in the second act. The stage was filled out with quirky characters, including peddlers pushing carts, a juggler and a man on stilts.

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