A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Opera

A Singer’s Notes 60: True Love

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A scene from Puccini's La Bohème, possibly from the first production.
A scene from Puccini’s La Bohème, possibly from the first production.

Alexina and Jason have done it again.

The Hubbard Hall Opera Theater Resident Artists La Bohème played to a sizeable crowd in the Dorset Playhouse last night, and the audience departed well-pleased. Each opera that I have seen Jason Dolmetsch stage has had the benefit of his excellent ear. Just one example: in Act 3 of La Bohème, where Mimi usually listens off, or nearly off, to the dire pronouncements, Vedrana Kalas walked haltingly across the space way upstage, a few steps at a time, as if what she was overhearing made it difficult for her to continue. Her progress touched the heart. In this abbreviated production (75 minutes with no intermission), Act 3 was given most fully. This is important. Acute listeners have long known that the real action takes place here. Here the timorous Rodolfo decides to stay with his dying companion, at least until spring comes. This is the most important decision taken in the opera. Vedrana Kalas as Mimi brought a specific vocalism to every situation she was in—the newness of her first meeting with Rodolfo, her growing awareness of her illness, and her very moving acceptance of her death, and singing beyond death into a kind of eternal sleep with her lover. It is not often that one encounters a young singer who can sing the first act and act the fourth act equally well. Brian J. Kuhl’s Rodolfo gave us a clear, more streamlined sound than one often hears, but the role was no less well-served for that. He was vulnerable and young, not just a powerhouse tenor. Kevin Kees as Marcello understood the ancillary quality of Marcello’s role and projected it warmly. The most vivid presence on stage was Irina Petrik as Musetta. She made you watch, and she commanded both space and time. Alexander Jones sang Alcindoro more clearly than most. Michael Clement played expertly and led the proceedings with authority.

Much of the opera was sung with virtually nothing on stage. I never missed it. Another felicity was the way Jason allowed his singers in the first act to step down and sing their great arias out to us. This takes courage these days. It was natural and right. It is very difficult to kill La Bohème, but it is also equally difficult, especially in a condensed version, to keep Arachne’s thread intact, and not give us episodes. This production compelled consistently.  What happened on stage moved with the speed of the music, not the speed of the words.

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