At its best, Opera transports us to another reality. It is an existence in which passion rules and every emotion is expressed through song. It is a world where a few minutes after the beautiful Mimi (Jasmina Halimic) from downstairs asks for help with a candle, newly acquainted Rodolfo (Alexander Boyer) stands up and proclaims undying love. They haven’t even had coffee yet! But through song, love can be expressed; as ridiculous as the speed of their amorousness is, somehow Puccini makes it convincing. It’s what life would be like if people didn’t have inhibitions– if people could just sing their way through their days.
Boyer’s flowing mastery of Puccinni’s soaring lines made it even easier to buy into the unlikely ardor with which Rodolfo and Mimi’s love instantly combusts. The tenor was the star of the show with a powerful and confident vocal presence. Halimic presented Mimi as lost and troubled, and thus easily swept up by Rodolfo’s charisma. Even when terminally ill, she lit up the stage and the entire hall. When Mimi’s light finally does go out with chilling minor chord in the brass, the sadness of the loss was palpable. At the height of their passion the pair’s duet in the snow penetrated deep into the heart—especially that line that lifts off after that timpani hit… (those who know and love “Mimi! -Speravo di trovarvi qui!” will know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re out there and know what I’m referring to, leave a comment below!)
When the main couple was not swooning over each other, the opera is filled with other exciting distractions. Marcello (Torlef Borsting) and the rest of the motley crew of poverty-stricken-yet-happy artists produced a fun racket with their tomfoolery. Puccini uses the crass merrymaking of the artists to contrast with the more tender love scenes. This illustrates how romance can take people out of their daily meddling and transport them to an entirely different realm. When real life fails to provide this Romance for us, we have operas like La Boheme to keep us connected to that transcendent realm of beauty.
Musetta (Sandra Bengochea) sounded obnoxious as ever with shrill vibrato on those piercing high notes as she tries to outdo Mimi’s elegance. In some productions the battle between femmes is actually won by Musetta but not in this case. Her immodesty just made her sound desperate.
Maestro David Rohrbaugh’s mastery of Puccini was as good as ever. Flexible in tempo and dynamics the orchestra sounded great and was at one with the vocalists. Opera San Jose distinctly favors traditional period set designs and costumes. Along with popular repertoire selections, the company secures good attendance and a diverse crowd. At the same time, the company is not afraid to innovate, having presented a noteworthy west coast premiere to start the season.
Next season, the company promises to continue this balance of the tested-and-true with the new and interesting. Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo will open the season followed by Poulenc’s little-known Pagliacci & La Voix Humaine. Verdi’s classic La Traviata and Gounod’s Faust will round up what should be an exciting season for opera in Silicon Valley.
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