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[whitespace] 'La Bohème'
Waltz Wonder: Erina Newkirk's Musetta leaves drooling suitors flailing left and right.

Comic Bonhomie

The men outshine the women in Opera San José's 'La Bohème'

By Michael J. Vaughn

OPERA SAN JOSÉ intended to perform La Bohème but instead came up with a new HBO Hannibal Lecter Mafia series, The Silence of the Sopranos. Blame it on the Montgomery Theater's acoustics, David Rohrbaugh's overly boisterous orchestra or the modestly powered singers themselves, but the women could not be heard.

Darn shame, too. Playing Mimi, Heather Calvete displayed a lush, lyric upper register (notably in the Act 2 farewell to Rodolfo, "Donde lieta usci") but completely vanished in her middle and lower ranges. Calvete's still in her mid-20s, so hopefully she'll develop these ranges in coming years. Mezzo Erina Newkirk, playing Musetta, sings at moderate strength all the way through (in fact, she could have used a little more dynamic variation), but her comic acting is superb. Her performance of Musetta's self-glorifying Waltz (also known as "Quando me'n vo") leaves drooling would-be suitors flailing left and right, and she's good with an Italian curse, too.

Funny thing is, in an art form where good male performers are supposed to be harder to find than a well-run power company, Opera San José enjoys an embarrassment of riches. The roster for La Bohème begins with tenor Thomas Truhitte, who fights off the occasional lack of breath support to pull down thunderous tones and spin them through the orchestra. He also endows the poet Rodolfo with a suitably dashing figure (thanks in part to costumer Barbara Barrett's sharp blue coat).

Ah, but the prize bull is baritone Scott Bearden, who makes you curse Puccini for giving the artist Marcello not a single aria (while the philosopher Colline gets to serenade his coat!). Bearden finds his spots to shine, nonetheless, especially his several shouting matches with Musetta and his half of the "lonely guys" duet ("Ah, Mimi, tu piu non torni") with Rodolfo in Act 3. Put quite simply, when Bearden's on the stage, you somehow feel more comfortable, because he sings beautifully and forcefully without ever looking like he's working at it.

Stage director Lorna Haywood takes full advantage of the four artists' comic bonhomie, making their garret celebrations into little frat parties (although I do miss the standard baguette-as-sword, replaced in this faux duel by a poker). The choristers get in on the pranks as well; one of the workers seeking entrance through the Act 2 gateway awakens the sentry by throwing a snowball at him. Puccini's opera continues to amaze, even after a few dozen viewings, revealing more and more of its little quirks: two of the most perfectly constructed arias in opera (Rodolfo's "Che gelida manina," Mimi's "Mi chiamano Mimi") applied to a single introduction scene; a threadbare skeleton of a plot (boy meets girl, girl dies) that constantly shoots off great depths of character and sorrow; and, perhaps, the ultimate unlikelihood of all, the fact that it's the musician Schaunard who's always bringing in the rent money.

La Bohème plays April 20-21, 24, 26, 28 and May 3-5 at 8pm and April 22, 29 and May 6 at 3pm at the Montgomery Theater, San Carlos and Market streets, San Jose. Tickets are $40-$54. (www.operasj.org or 408.437-4450)

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From the April 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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