Opera: Engaging Cast Lifts Florida Grand Opera’s La bohème

Florida Grand Opera has launched its 2012-2013 season with an enchanting staging of Giacomo Puccini’s beloved classic, La bohème, drawn from Scénes de la vie de bohème, Henry Murger’s chronicle of the ribald hijinks amidst often desperate privations of the denizens of Paris’ Latin Quarter circa 1830. This FGO production benefits from a particularly engaging and endearing cast who draw us into the action to the strains of Puccini’s intoxicatingly beautiful score and the affecting lyricism of the libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica.

Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz stars as the penniless poet, Rodolfo, whose ultimately tragic love for the lovely, consumptive seamstress, Mimì, serves as the emotional core of the opera. We last saw Chacón-Cruz as Pinkerton in an FGO production of Madama Butterfly a few years back, and were again taken by the seemingly effortless quality of his singing, which almost veils the beauty of his voice and the excellence of his technique at times. His “Che gelida manina” aria in the First Act drew an appreciative hand. This production’s Mimì is soprano Ailyn Perez, winner of the prestigious 2012 Richard Tucker Award. She’s an interesting pairing with Chacón-Cruz. Whereas he exudes an almost laid-back, easy charm, Perez seems rather more a dramatic than a romantic lead. Although she modulates beautifully, and her First Act Mi chiamano Mimi was also warmly received, Perez’ Mimì gained power as the action grew progressively more tragic and heart-rending. Her Fourth Act Mimì was the most compelling of the half-dozen or so we’ve seen.

A strong suit of this production is a terrific supporting cast that brings Rodolfo’s carousing flat-mates to vivid and engaging life. Baritone Mark Walters is a standout as the painter, Marcelo. He’s a commanding, charismatic presence both physically and vocally, and he’s especially fine portraying a sympathetic, caring friend as the action darkens. Baritone Ryan Milstead sings powerfully and imbues the musician Schaunard with a rakish charm and joie de vivre that light up the stage. As the philosopher, Colline, bass Adam Lau doesn’t establish his character quite as memorably, but he sang Colline’s farewell to his coat, “Vecchia zimarra,in Act Four handsomely and drew a nice hand. As Marcelo’s love interest, soprano Brittany Ann Reneé Robinson gave us a bewitching spitfire of a Musetta, reveling in her famous Act Two “Quando me’n vo’” aria, while being genuinely moving reacting to the tragic events of Act Four.

Ramon Tebar conducts Puccini’s marvelous score with finesse, fire, and considerable panache, and stage director David Gately sprinkles the action with entertaining comedic touches early on, and then handles the growing pathos with a light but very affecting hand.

But what really makes this La bohème special is the vivid and engaging life that a terrific cast brings to its characters. By the end you know them, care about them. It’s a La bohème to remember.

Remaining performances: Miami: November 21, 24, 27, 30; December 2. Fort Lauderdale: December 6 and 8. www.FGO.org; 305-854-7890.

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