As you all well know, my first opera experience was a few weeks ago, when my grandmother took me to see Houston Grand Opera’s stunning production of Der fliegende Holländer, which I talked about in one of my pieces. I mentioned at the time that we enjoyed the show so much that my grandma decided to buy us tickets to see Houston’s upcoming production of La bohème, and I’m pleased now to say that the performance has officially come and passed.
Of all the operas that I’ve heard of, La bohème is probably the one I was most “familiar” with...if one would count knowing that the musical Rent borrows plot elements heavily from the opera as being “familiar” with the material. I wouldn’t, but the point is that I more or less knew what to expect from the story going in, and part of me wonders if that had any effect on how I saw the performance; I know I spent a good amount of time during the show comparing and contrasting Rent and La bohème’s stories and characters.
Overall? I thought the show was very good! It wasn’t the most amazing live show I’ve ever seen, but I still appreciated it as a fine performance of a classic opera, and I know for a fact that I enjoyed it more than I ever enjoyed the times I popped in my Rent on Broadway DVD. (Maybe I’ll do a comparison of the two in a future piece.)
All of the singers did a wonderful job with the material. While the male singers were great, the two standouts for me were Nardus Williams as Mimì and Yelena Dyachek as Musetta. Williams brought a sweet vulnerability to Mimì that made you feel for the character when things began going wrong with her conflicted beau, Rodolfo. Her voice was powerful and persuasive; it was enough to draw us in even as she sang her first lines from behind the set pieces, before she made her first entrance. In contrast, Dyachek provided a sharp, comedic twist to the show that played off of the relative seriousness of the rest of the characters’ situations. She was flirtatious, deliciously hysterical, and possessing a voice that could bring the whole house down. Considering the entire cast for our afternoon was a group of alternates, it was easy to see just how much they wanted to put into their one shot at their roles.
The set, just like with Der fliegende Holländer, was very effective. Rodolfo and Marcello’s filthy and cluttered apartment was literally turned into a busy city street on the other side. Pretty backdrops indicated when it was day or nighttime outside, and dusky, dusty lighting was used in the starving artists’ apartment to indicate the uncomfortably cold conditions they lived in. I also thought the costumes blended in well with the environment; many greys and blues were used with the poorer characters to show that they were just a few of many artists struggling to live in a demanding society, and Musetta’s flashy, bright pink outfits added a contrast to showcase her wild, free-living nature.
Sadly, I believe this production has already come to a close, so I can’t recommend that anyone in the Houston area check it out. However, I will say that, so far, Houston Grand Opera’s productions have greatly satisfied me as someone who’s used to strictly seeing musical theatre, and I think they’ve been serving as a great gateway for folks who may not be completely versed in the wide world of opera. If you ever want to dip your toes in a different kind of theatre, do give HGO or your local opera company a try!
(Photo by Lynn Lane)