‘La bohème’ may bring tears to your eyes

Published on June 14, 2014

Composed and premiered more than a century ago, Giuseppe Puccini’s immensely popular “La bohème,” set in the Latin Quarter of Paris, features an impoverished young poet, Rodolfo, who shares a freezing garret with a painter, a playwright, a musician and a budding philosopher.

When the landlord comes to collect the rent, they ply him with wine — but not with money.

Starting in comedy, “La bohème” ends in tragedy.

Rodolfo falls in love with Mimi, who makes her living as a seamstress, their amatory relationship being echoed by that of his painter friend and flat-sharer, Marcello (Elias Benito Arranz) and his flighty and independent lady-friend, Musetta (Ashley Kerr).

The smitten lovers do the things that smitten lovers do, with some wavering along the way, caused in large part by Rodolfo’s violent jealousy. They agree to part in spring, in the season of flowers. Eventually, anguished and still in love, they come together again.

Too late. Mimi’s racking cough is a symptom of consumption. She declines rapidly and the opera closes with a lingering and poignant death-bed scene, with a penitent and desperate Rodolfo at her side to embrace her in death.

Tenor Anthony Kalil’s Rodolfo is convincingly performed, expressively sung and articulated. He has a lyrical tenor voice, with a good top range. Soprano Naomi Johns’ Mimi is extremely affecting. She has sympathetic stage presence, as well as a very fine, unforced soprano voice.

Their first poignant love duet may bring tears to your eyes.

Sung in Italian, with projected English subtitles, together with a painted set that mimics Puccini’s original, and with a huge chorus of women and children, Puccini’s “La bohème” is directed by Michael Cavanagh, with orchestra led by conductor Judith Yan. The Opera on the Avalon production of “La bohème” has its closing performance in the Holy Heart Theatre tonight, starting at 8 p.m and running to 10:15 p.m., including a 20-minute intermission — not a long opera, but a moving one, to which a substantial opening-night audience responded very warmly, culminating in a full standing ovation.

While the opera closes in Holy Heart with the Saturday performance, there is a one-night reprise on Sunday evening in Bonavista’s Garrick Theatre.

And, next week, “La bohème” is followed at Holy Heart Theatre by a three-day run of Benjamin Britten’s 20th-century English opera, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which I have never seen and which I am sure has never been seen in St. John’s.

In its sixth season, under the artistic directorship of Cheryl Hickman and featuring young professionals, Opera on the Avalon has become something of a fixture in the spring/summer season in St. John’s. What Canadian city of comparable size, I wonder, provides the opportunity of attending, within a week and a half, two full-length operas a year?

Not one, I fancy.