Reviewed by James Karas
The Glimmerglass Festival came to life in 1975 with four performances in the auditorium of Cooperstown High School. Things picked up after that modest start and in 1987 it constructed the Alice Busch Opera Theatre along the shore of Otsego Lake, in the beautiful rolling countryside a few miles from Cooperstown. Yes, that is the one-street town that is famous for the Baseball Hall of Fame and one street full of stores selling baseball memorabilia.
The opera that was produced in the high school auditorium was Puccini’s La Boheme, which happens to be one of this year’s offerings in the 1200-seat Alice Busch Opera Theatre and not in the high school auditorium.
The current production, conducted by Nader Abbassi and directed by E. Loren Meeker, is a pleasure to watch, moving, well-sung, on superb sets. It is pure Bohème without directorial high jinks. Meeker knows the opera well. She directed the original 2016 production at the Glimmerglass Festival and had it set in the Paris of the colourful Belle Epoque of Toulouse Lautrec.
What do we want? Give us a Mimi that will make Rodolfo (and us) fall in love with her while searching for her key and make him and everyone in sight bawl in the final scene when she dies. Soprano Teresa Perrotta steps onto the stage to achieve all that. She is a young singer who won the 2023 Grand Final of The Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition. That propelled her into some minor roles until she was cast as Mimi for the Glimmerglass Festival production.
She has a sweet and affecting voice that makes us love her and cry for her, and root for her when she describes her status as a poor but hard-working and virtuous young woman. She wants her candle lit by Rodolfo, she loses her key and tells us so delicately “Mi chiamano Mimi.” Perrotta carries us along Mimi’s love story, her distress and her fortitude when she separates from Rodolfo with no ill will.
What about Rodolfo, the poor, passionate poet, living in a cold garret in Paris who falls in love with Mimi deeply and forever and leaves her shortly after that. Tenor Joshua Blue has been around the operatic block a few times and is climbing the artistic ladder with what seems to be a handsome and firm voice. Rodolfo has some fine moments and needs some high notes to express passion, pain and regret. He succeeds superbly. Puccini and his librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa make him look like a jealous cad who abandons Mimi when he realizes she is seriously ill. But he is no cad. He separates from her because he cannot provide for her. He leaves her so she can find someone who can look after her. A superb performance by Blue.
Rodolfo’s garret mate and two friends do not always get the notice and appreciation that they deserve. True, they are relatively minor characters but they make a significant contribution to the opera.
I tip my hat to them and endow them with kudos. We have Darren Lakeith Drone as Marcello, the painter; Justin Burgess as Schaunard, the musician and Nan Wang as Colline the philosopher along with Rodolfo, of course. Under Meeker’s direction, they make the friendship appear real through thick and thin. They can laugh and find fun in their poverty and stand with Rodolfo and Mimi in her last moments. Fine vocal performances by all.
Kevin Depinet’s sets are perfect for the production. The garret set is a reflection of the artists’ wherewithal, the scene at the Café Momus is colourful, full of activity and carnival joy.
La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini (music) and Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (libretto) opened on July 7 and will be performed thirteen times until August 19, 2023, at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. More information at: www.glimmerglass.org