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St.Clair and Pacific Symphony Find the Heart of ‘La Bohème’

REVIEW: The annual semi-staged opera features a talented young cast in Puccini’s masterpiece.


The staging of “La Bohème” with the Pacific Symphony included scenery and full costumes for the cast. From left, Adam Diegel (Rodolfo), Mimi (Teresa Perrotta), Musetta (Alisa Jordheim), Marcello (SyeungHyeon Baek), Schaunard (John Allen Nelson), Colline (Andrew Potter). Photo courtesy of Pacific Symphony/Doug Gifford
 

“Is anything in the world more poignant than youth and love and tuberculosis?,” Virgil Thomson once wrote apropos of “La Bohème.” He meant it only somewhat humorously, I think, in awe of how effective Puccini’s old tearjerker was and still is. That’s why the opera is performed so often. Put the thing on and it does its stuff.

 

It certainly did (again) Thursday night at Segerstrom Concert Hall, when conductor Carl St.Clair, the Pacific Symphony and company gave their annual performance of a semi-staged opera. The term “semi-staged” doesn’t quite capture it here, though. 

 

True, the orchestra was onstage, but otherwise this was a fully staged (if rudimentary) production, with a unit set that served nicely for the three locales, props (the Café Momus had tables and tablecloths, and snappy waiters) and costumes and theatrical lighting. Stage director Omer Ben Seadia kept everyone (for the most part) moving about convincingly. Not much standing and singing going on. Even the supertitles, projected on a screen with moody colors, falling snow and painted scenes, added atmosphere.

 

Projected supertitles included atmospheric backgrounds. Photo courtesy of Pacific Symphony/Doug Gifford
 

The cast was young and enthusiastic and knew their parts backwards and forwards. Teresa Perrotta offered a charming and innocent and amply voiced Mimi, with quite a cough. She was only hampered by her costume, which made her look like a late arrival from the Mayflower.

 

As Rodolfo, Adam Diegel provided a big voice that came easily, only he tended to use it as if he were singing in a stadium, as in, fortissimo, not a 2,000-seat concert hall (more below). Acting wise, his passion seemed a tad too dignified, but perhaps that’s just as well.

 

SeungHyeon Baek made an ideal Marcello, lively, quick in emotion, funny and forceful. Alisa Jordheim limned a Musetta equal parts saucy and bratty, her pinpoint voice negotiating the part elegantly. She also won costume of the evening.


There were some problems, however. When this quartet sang together, and with the ensemble, it was often way too loud and distorted. Without a proscenium or backdrops to dampen them, their sound became harsh and cluttered, like a bad old vinyl record. In the busy scene at Café Momus and elsewhere, one couldn’t hear the orchestra properly.

Some of this seemed an effect of the set, with the garret rising several feet above and in front of the orchestra. (The garret was also quite small, even as garrets go, and when everyone gathered in it, movement was hampered. One thought of the stateroom scene in “A Night at the Opera.”) What’s more, our tunable hall was tuned extra reverberant, doors to the resonating chambers wide open. The acoustics reminded these ears of a gymnasium at times.


PHOTO 1: Teresa Perrotta as Mimi, left, and Adam Diegel as Rodolfo. PHOTO 2: SeungHyeon Baek as Marcello, left, and Alisa Jordheim as Musetta. Photos courtesy of Pacific Symphony/Doug Gifford

 

All of this irked mostly in the first two acts, which are more nimble and detailed and subtle than are often given credit for, and which became information overloaded and muscular here, though certainly not lacking in boisterousness and ardor.

 

Back on the Segerstrom stage after several months’ absence, St.Clair led the orchestra with clear intent and intensity. Working without a baton, he molded and coaxed, exhorted and dabbled, pleaded and told. He brought out the brilliance in this orchestral score, every bit the equal and as integral to the opera as those by Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi and others. 

 

John Allen Nelson and Andrew Potter supplied the frat boy humor of Schaunard and Colline, the latter singing a touching farewell to his soon-to-be-pawned coat. The Southern California Children’s Chorus gamboled exuberantly through Act Two. The Pacific Chorale packed the room with resplendence.

 

In the end, as Mimi expires (she dies, you know), perhaps a tender tear dotted a cheek here and there, despite ourselves. Enjoy it while you can. Next year’s semi-staged opera offering, with St.Clair probably in his final season as music director, will be “Das Rheingold,” not known to require Kleenex.

‘La Bohème’

When: April 4, 8:00 pm;  April 6, 8:00 pm; April 9, 8:00 pm 

Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Remaining seats available between $85-$225

Contact: pacificsymphony.org


ARTISTS

Carl St.Clair, conductor

Pacific Chorale

Southern California Children’s Chorus

Pacific Symphony

 

CAST

Teresa Perrotta, Mimi

Adam Diegel, Rudolfo

Alisa Jordheim, Musetta

SeungHyeon Baek, Marcello

John Allen Nelson, Schaunard

Andrew Potter, Colline

Philip Cokorinos, Benoit/Alcindoro

Nicholas Preston, Parpignol

Shyheim Selvan Hinnant, Supernumerary

William Grundler, Supernumerary

 

PROGRAM

Puccini: ‘La Bohème’

Semi-staged opera in Italian with English subtitles


 

Classical music coverage at Culture OC is supported in part by a grant from the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism. Culture OC makes all editorial decisions.

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