It’s not even a full bar of Che gelida manina (What a frozen little hand) when Puccini succeeds in making the entire world disappear in a quick poof with the power of opera...
We forget the earlier banter and bravado in Rodolfo’s atelier with an energy you’d expect in a frat house. We forget our fellow audience members– over 2000– in the Coliseum-like round Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre of Atlanta, and the long lines to the parking lot that preceded.
We are rapt in Rodolfo–sung by Chinese tenor Long Long making his North American debut– who is getting around to asking his newly found love to get to know his soul—just as all of us did back in the day when we first met THE ONE. His mundane lyrics could be inserted into an AP style news story.
So too are the words sung in response, Si mi chiamano Mimi (Yes they call me Mimi), performed by soprano Gabriella Reyes. But we don’t focus much on the small talk these soon to be lovers use to fill the void. It is instead the transporting Puccini score that informs us of the floodgates of passion opening. We all know the real words they are singing– I’ll show you my soul, if you show me yours.
How extraordinary to hear that drive to connect deeply put into melody! Puccini’s music, like the power of love, makes the rest of the world fade away. Who of the 1000’s in this grand hall are not channeling their own love story as we take an inside seat in Mimi and Rodolfo’s amour?
Along with the love story, La Boheme paints a picture of Paris Bohemian life-- rich is spirit but poor in cash. Rodolfo frolics with his friends and they all conspire to escape the need to pay rent.
Mimi's declining health from tuberculosis-- a scourge of an earlier time-- adds the dimension of tragedy to this classic love story.
As the story unfolds, it’s likely that many watching have a protective wall of fear-infused hope that their personal love story will never veer into the tragic terrain where La Boheme is clearly headed. We know right from the start that this is a tragic tale tailor-made for opera presentation. Mimi has cold hands and coughs a lot. Later she collapses. It’s a tale of love in the time of TB. In his tumultuous confused emotions, Rodolfo’s terror at losing her compels him to reject her. Their love cycles them together, apart and back together before their final separation when Mimi dies. You too, like this writer, may find yourself weeping as the curtain falls– even if you have heard the music and seen the opera many times before.
Atlanta Opera Assembles Top Tier Talents to LA BOHEME
In this reviewer’s opinion, Atlanta Opera’s production of La Boheme succeeds most by keeping the exquisite confection of Puccini’s score center stage. The two leads– Long Long and Gabriella Reyes– have sweet and powerful voices that more than fill the hall. The supporting cast is similarly in no way lacking.
You too may especially admire the ways in which Scenic & Projection Designer Erhard Rom and Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel seamlessly sew the visuals to the libretto, seeming to have a rheostat finely tuned to micrometers of affect. In the first scene as love-at-first-sight blossoms, the moon doesn’t rise, but instead waxes and seems to slowly drift downwards as dreamy clouds reach down to frame it. In the third act, the snowy scape feels so real that we can imagine the smell of wet wool and fear of ice seeping through our boots.. Then, when Mimi and Rodolfo sing of staying together until Spring, their words are infused with pink sky reminding of that season’s budding blooms. How perfect too that when Mimi’s friend and foil of sorts, vibrantly brazen and flirty Musetta (sung by Madison Leonard) makes her first entrance she is bathed in swirling klieg lights that seem to say “No wallflower here!” Like the sweet voices of the leads, these stagecraft touches make the music more.
In the program notes we learn that The Atlanta Opera has just made the top ten tier of opera companies in the U.S. That means that opera fans throughout the Southeast – from Chattanooga to Birmingham to Savannah and beyond— can expect more top tier talent powered live opera performances within a relatively short reach.
Better still, this production and many others can be streamed at no cost from The Atlanta Opera website.
Photos: Raftermen, courtesy of The Atlanta Opera
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.