What could be more refined and more marketable than a Valentine's Day opening night for the ever-popular tragic love story La Bohème? Not much, according to opera lovers and romantics who sold out the spacious Buell Theatre to kick off Opera Colorado's 2004 season.
Artistic director James Robinson's adaptation, which has been performed to critical acclaim in New York, Houston, and on PBS, is an inventive, and sometimes thrilling, production. Like the popular musical, Rent, based on the same story, this La Bohème captures the idealism of young artists struggling to survive on their creative wits.
Roommates Rodolfo, a poet, and Marcello, a painter, live with two other friends in a garret in Paris. They often have no food to eat, nor fuel to heat their stove, but their joie de vivre and romantic ardor is rarely dampened. While Marcello pines over the flirtatious Musetta, Rodolfo falls head over heals for the virtuous Mimi.
Pamela Armstrong is a pleasing Mimi with a mild demeanor and lovely soprano. Emmanuel di Villarosa conveys the possessive Rodolfo with aplomb, and his strong tenor matches well with Armstrong. At a distance, though, it was difficult to discern the attraction between them, and some of their duets, though technically perfect, never reach the emotional heights that give this story its reputation.
On the other hand, Emily Pulley pulls out all the stops as Musetta, the classic free-spirit with a heart of gold. Her passionate soprano is matched by Mel Ulrich's expressive baritone as Marcello.
Robinson's updating of the setting is generally subtle, and works seamlessly with the story. The heavily-raked garret is sufficiently confining to convey the cramped quarters of the poverty-stricken bohemians, while the life-size locomotive in Act III by contrast, brought an audible gasp and applause from the audience.
The experienced Stephen Lord conducts the Colorado Symphony Orchestra with great feeling, showing off Giacomo Puccini's heart-singing melodies. The Opera Colorado Chorus and the Colorado Children's Chorale round out the polished production.
Opera Colorado's La Bohème finishes its run with performances this Saturday, February 21st at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, February 22nd at 2:00 pm. 303-893-4100.