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REVIEW: Patchy La Bohème Shines Through (Minnesota Opera)

Scott Quinn (Rodolfo) and Nicole Cabell (Mimì) in Minnesota Opera’s production of La Bohème. Photo by Dan Norman.

Minnesota Opera’s new production of La Bohème is uneven. There are parts that are exceedingly beautiful and engaging, and there are some that are noticeably not on the same level as the others. Call it the difference between a scuffed boot and a freshly shined one – both walk fine, but side-by-side there are some pretty clear discrepancies.

Scott Quinn (Rodolfo) and Nicole Cabell (Mimì) enjoy one last, tragic moment onstage. Photo by Dan Norman.

The shiny parts of this Bohème‘s Cast A certainly include Nicole Cabell as Mimì, Scott Quinn as Rodolfo, Edward Parks as Marcello, Benjamin Sieverding as Colline, and Thomas C. Glass II as Schaunard. As for the scuffed parts, well…if you know this opera well, you can probably guess which arias and characters are involved. Suffice it to say that there was some sparkle missing on opening night, as well as some directorial decisions that seemed to trivialize characters and rob some select scenes of gravitas. Nothing more need be said about these, as ultimately the experience was both moving and affecting.

The orchestra was in good form on Saturday, back under the baton of Michael Christie; the music was rendered with less of a melodramatic touch than is common, leaving room for numerous small touches – a quiver of tempo, an accent tapped here – that made all the difference in the lively Act I, Mimì’s introduction, and most especially Act III. Act IV was brilliantly played and sung, with all of the magnificence and tear-filled eyes (in the audience) expected of one of opera’s most famous death scenes.

The large chorus dominated the stage in Act II. Photo by Dan Norman.

Much of Bohème, being a story focused on characters who are have-nots, is not a glamour moment for designers. The various designs were functional but otherwise undistinguished, fulfilling their roles. A notable exception to this was the last costume worn by Mìmi, after she is taken in (and then leaves) a wealthy nobleman; this dress occasioned several positive comments in the departure line.

La Bohème is now such a standard that many directors are tempted to mess with it using unorthodox stagings and strange commentaries. What you get with this production is classic Puccini in (almost) all its glory. Act I makes you want to see more of that whole cast of characters, and Acts III and IV deliver very nicely on this.

La Bohème plays through May 21 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN.

Basil Considine