la Boheme

March 9, 2005.By Steven LaVigne, Living Out.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), but I’m beginning to change my opinion. One reason is Theatre Latte Da’s splendid “La Boheme.” Perhaps inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s recent staging, which moved the story to the 1950s, director Peter Rothstein has taken the kinks out of this warhorse. While it’s wisely sung in Italian, the ensemble is small, but full of good voices done by a young and energetic cast. I found the result far more refreshing than Zefferelli’s overproduced 1982 Metropolitan Opera staging, featuring: multilayered sets and a Mimi whose throat was closed until the Third Act, and was nowhere near the 21-year-old victim of T.B. called for in the script.

Based on Henri Murger’s “Scenes de Boheme,” the plot focuses on Rodolfo, a poet, Marcello, a painter, Colline, a philosophy student, Schaunard, a musician and Musetta, Marcello’s old flame, who’s allowed a wealthy man to take care of her. On Christmas Eve, Rodolpho meets Mimi, a seamstress, and they quickly fall in love against the background of the Nazi occupation of Paris.

Rothstein uses the clay sculptures arranged on the same table which will serve as Mimi’s deathbed as his vista of the City of Light. Little things, here and there capture the mood of the period, but it’s the quality of this glorious cast which must be celebrated. Daniel Cardwell’s Rodolfo, Aaron Larson’s Marcello, Rob Woodin’s Schaunard, and Roy Kallemeyn in several roles, lead the marvelous ensemble of men, while Bryan Boyce, whom I’ve seen in several University Opera productions, is a triumphant Colline. There are few moments in the opera vernacular that marvel an audience like “Musetta’s Waltz,” even in “Rent,” that travesty which passes for a modern variation on this tragic romance. In Rothstein’s version, Jill Sandager is accompanied by an accordian, and it’s a highlight of the evening. Meghann Schmidt’s Mimi is luscious and beautiful, and hers is a voice of which I hope to here more in the future.

Joseph Schlefke is to be commended for his brilliant orchestration. He’s arranged the score for a five-piece combo of street instruments, and it enhances this valentine of a production.

“La Boheme” has been extended through April 6 at the Loring Playhouse.