A fine cast boosts Utah Opera’s season-opening “Boheme”

Mon Oct 09, 2023 at 12:12 pm
By Edward Reichel
Musetta (Marina Costa-Jackson) and Rodolfo (Christopher Oglesby) tend Mimi (Laura Wilde) in Puccini’s La Boheme at Utah Opera. Photo: Dana Sohm

Utah Opera opened its new season in the Capitol Theatre Saturday with a wonderfully cast production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème. The opera was the company’s initial offering back in January 1978 and has been programmed frequently ever since.

What distinguishes this staging from the past several productions is primarily the cast. Everyone, from the leads to the smaller characters, have commanding voices as well as impressive acting chops.

Leading the cast is Laura Wilde as the consumptive Mimi, who sells the artificial flowers she makes to eke out a living. Wilde gave an understated yet powerful portrayal of her character. She is delightfully innocent when she first meets the struggling writer Rodolfo, and as she gradually realizes she’s falling in love with him she remains reserved in expressing her feelings towards him. But one can nonetheless sense a subtle change in her behavior as the love duet between her and Rodolfo unfolds.

Christopher Oglesby as Rodolfo is more effusive in his expressions of love towards Mimi yet still kept in scale. That’s in part due to the thoughtful direction of Garnett Bruce as it is to Puccini’s music. Everything is very clearly expressed in the love developing between the two in Act I, but it’s never heavy handed nor sentimental.

Oglesby and Wilde turned in a fine performance of their lengthy love duet. And Oglesby also did a commendable job with “Che gelida manina,” marred somewhat by fumbling his top notes.

As the total opposite to Wilde’s modest Mimi is Musetta and Marina Costa-Jackson’s devil-may-care attitude embodied the flirtatious Musetta’s matters of the heart. Flamboyant and gregarious, she flaunts herself and teases every man she meets to the consternation of Daniel Belcher’s Alcindoro, her wealthy current lover. But when she sees her ex-boyfriend Marcello in the bustling crowd at Café Momus, she throws herself at him and eventually they resume their relationship. 

Costa-Jackson is well cast as Musetta. Her singing was fluid and lyrical and, although high notes were rather shrill, she gave a captivating performance of Act II’s “Quando m’en vo,” (“Musetta’s Waltz”). And while Musetta is indeed a larger-than-life character, Costa-Jackson’s interpretation was a bit too over-the-top, balnced by her more sensitive Mimi in the final scene.

James Westman as Marcello brought an imposing stature to his role as a struggling painter. Singing with finely crafted lyricism, Westman imbued his character with dignity. And even though he’s as broke as Rodolfo, one can still sense in Westman’s interpretation that he has the determination to succeed against all odds.

One of the memorable moments for Marcello is when he sees Musetta in Act II and pretends he doesn’t care for her anymore. But through Westman’s simple gestures and expressions it’s obvious that he’s still madly in love with her.

Rodolfo’s other friends, all penniless artists, gave compelling performances, bringing some touching humor as they lament their bleak existence. Tshilidzi Ndou as Schaunard and William Guanbo Su as Colline were in top vocal form Saturday. In particular, “Vecchia zimarra,” Su’s Act IV aria in which he decides to part with his beloved coat in order to buy medicine for Mimi, was especially heartfelt. 

Members of the Utah Opera Chorus, under chorus master Sharon Bjorndal Lavery, and the children of the Madeleine Choir school, directed by Melanie Malinka, were in top form for the Cafe Momus scene of Act II. 

Robert Tweten conducted the Utah Symphony in the pit. His choice of tempi was well considered, and the action moved at a brisk clip without dragging.

Utah Opera’s La Bohème runs through October 15 at the Capitol Theatre. utahopera.org

One Response to “A fine cast boosts Utah Opera’s season-opening “Boheme””

  1. Posted Oct 15, 2023 at 8:04 pm by Georgi Gold

    We struggled to hear the singers, especially in the first act. So did other patrons around us. The sound is dismal. What’s up with that?
    Also, Rudolfo was struggling with his voice. There were at least 5 missed notes. Not what we expect from the opera company.
    We sat in row E, 2-5.

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