An unforgettable La boheme from Opera Philadelphia

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Opera Philadelphia is now presenting Puccini’s classic opera La boheme on the Academy of Music stage until May 5.


Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La boheme is one of the most beloved operas before today’s public. The twenty-eight-year-old Arturo Toscanini conducted the premiere in 1896 to mixed reviews. In short order, however, it became one of the most popular operas by a living composer. La boheme continues to be one of the most performed operas. There is an old saying that opera houses used to fall back on the “ABC operas.” The ABC acronym stands for Aida, La boheme, and Carmen. La boheme inspired Jonathan Larson to create one of the most beloved modern musicals based on the storyline, which he called Rent. Unlike Rent, La boheme does not end happily with a miraculous cure.


Puccini and his collaborators set a story based during the reign of Louis Philippe, King of France, from 1830 to 1848. Opera Philadelphia’s (and Valencia, Spain’s, Palau de les Arts’ 2012 production of) La boheme uses a montage of Impressionist works from the later 19th century as scenery, setting it around the time of the opera’s premiere. Whether or not these illuminated projections add or detract from the opera is up to personal taste. They do, however, add visual interest in that the painter of the group, Marcello (played by Troy Cook), has a screen instead of a canvas, which often provides striking visual interest as it displays him completing famous art works. It is a clever touch. The audiovisual effects are credited to D-Wok. David Livermore’s set and costume designs reach their high point outside the Café Momus, with the most lavish spectacle of the evening as we see the entire neighborhood celebrating Christmas Eve.


Conductor Corrado Rovaris (who is celebrating twenty years with Opera Philadelphia) inspired his orchestra into a radiant, idiomatic, succulent performance of this classic. Of course, the singing was also incredibly fine. Reprising his tremendous success as Don Jose from last season’s Carmen, Evan LeRoy Johnson proved himself to also be an incandescent Rodolfo. It is hoped that he will soon return again to Opera Philadelphia.  A talent such as his cannot be hidden, so several great opera houses of Europe have already engaged him. Of course, one can only wonder if he might soon perform the third tenor in that ABC trilogy mentioned above, Radames in Aida. As Mimi, the grisette who comes calling on Rodolfo to light her candle, Vanessa Vasquez was by turns limpid, then caressable, then pitiable. Ashley Marie Robillard was the incarnation of Musetta, the successful courtesan who also happens to be in love with the painter Marcello. Last seen as an unforgettable Papagena with Opera Philadelphia, she once again proves herself to be an international talent. Rounding out the cast is Kevin Burdette as both Benoit and Alcindoro, and the other bohemians Colline (Peixin Chen), Marcello (Troy Cook), and Shaunard (Will Liverman). All fine actors and singers.


Opera Philadelphia’s production of La boheme is at the Academy of Music until May 5. Their new season named O19 coming in September, and information about La boheme, can be found at .


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