Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

A Boheme to celebrate in Indianapolis

My birthday celebrations continued with Indianapolis Opera’s Boheme. I attended the 2nd (and unfortunately last) performance on 11/22 matinée.  It is funny, because I thought the performance started at 1, so I am rushing through traffic and cursing Sunday Midwestern drivers (God bless them, they are convinced they are the only ones on the road) and I made it with something like 2 minutes to spare. I purchased my tickets and when I get to the 3rd balcony (hey, I’m unemployed, that’s all I could afford, plus I do like it up there, it gives me a complete view of the stage, no sidelines) I discover that the performance didn’t start until 2 PM. So there I was an hour earlier (the fact that I didn’t have a problem finding parking should have clued me in, Duh!) and nothing to do. So I spent my time chatting with John Picket, executive director of the company and a charming man. I have to admit, the last time I attended Indianapolis Opera was their 2003 Boheme. I promise to do better, I do.

The opera was performed in a standard setting, no frills and nothing extravagant. Even in that (yes, gag those of you who would rather have some deconstruction staged in a post-apocalyptic world; if it is post-apocalyptic, doesn’t it mean that nobody survived? How could we have anyone still looking like humans then?), the magnificent production from New Orleans opera in shades of gray gave us the perfect ambiance for this love story. The costumes, rented from Malabar, were also very basic and they helped create a setting where the singing and the story could bring the audience in.

First of all, kudos to all in the audience. The Colts were playing and Indianapolis is PROUD of their Colts; so I know there were a lot of husbands (and some wives) who would have rather stayed home. Kudos to Indy opera for switching to the game in the monitors outside of the house so the fans could enjoy a bit of the game on those precious moments when we were allowed to walk away from Puccini. Further Kudos to the audience for their wonderful and attentive behavior. We are in Flu season and there was hardly a cough in the house. This is an audience that truly loves their home opera company.

The performance was wonderfully conducted by Indy Opera’s own James Caraher. Maestro Caraher is a musician of the first order and a sensitive conductor. Under his batton I did both my professional debut and my farewell and I can tell you, you will search wide and narrow to find a conductor that treats you like a partner. Today we were treated to music making of the first kind. First, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra played like one. This ensemble has been accompanying the opera for quite a while and they are an ensemble of fantastic musicians. Their playing was delicate when needed and rambunctious when appropriate. Puccini would be very proud to hear his music so well played. Bravi to all.

A big bravo also to the members of the Chorus. These people do it for the love of the art (they are not extravagantly paid like the choruses at the Lyric or the Met) but you would not know by the sounds they make. John Schmidt, another first rate musician has been preparing the chorus since 1984. He is demanding and it shows. The Indianapolis Opera Chorus is a source of pride for the house and they always give their best in every performance. You could not ask for a better ensemble behind you. Bravi to all of you.

Vocal honors in the soloists must go to Maureen O’Flynn, our Mimi. I feel that although I didn’t experience Freni or Tebaldi, I have been lucky enough to have seen Hey-Kyung Hong and Maria Spacagna as Mimi. Today I added another jewel to that crown. Ms. O’Flynn’s Mimi was all frailty, all sweetness and all human. There was not one weak moment in her performance. Her Mi chiamano Mimi brought tears to my eyes with the simplicity of her delivery and the silvery quality of her voice. Her act 1 finale included a perfectly placed high C that sent me to heaven. Latter on, while other Mimi’s grow in stature in act 3, Ms. O’Flynn’s Mimi wilted,while maintaining her vocal stature. That made her Mimi even more tragic. Her Donde lieta was again sung with such simplicity that it was devastating. By the time we got to the Sono andate in the 4th act, I was crying uncontrollably. She latter told me she will be doing a bunch of Mimis at the Met. If you are able to catch her, RUN for a ticket, elbow your way to one with no shame. You will not regret it. Indianapolis was very fortunate that we had her as our Mimi. Please, please, please bring her back soon. This is an artist of the first order in full control of her powers. Please bring her back!

Sean David Anderson was also quite good. His voice bloomed in the space and he gave us a beautifully sung and acted Marcello. I guess the year he spend on Broadway doing the Baz Lurman Boheme on Broadway helped create a three-dimensional character (you must in such small stages or you are toasted). I can not think of many Marcellos who have been so effective.

I wish I could be so ecstatic about William Joyner’s Rodolfo. His is a voice perfect for the role, but in today’s performance it just didn’t bloom. His singing and acting were never less than committed. Even if I had not made some of the choices that he made, I must admire that. He sings well on the middle and lower parts of the voice, if a little too weighty and covered. His passaggio might be a little too covered too and that might be the reason why his high notes did not travel to the back of the house. I was sad for him and frustrated at the same time. His high notes, anything above G were just not audible. I am not saying that he does not have the notes, he does and apparently in spades; and for the one Bb that I heard in the act 3 quartet (Finally! I thought) they are quite beautiful. The problem must be somewhere in the technique. Somewhere in the transition to the high register, something is not working properly that is not allowing the A,Bb,B and C to open up and shine. One last comment, This tenor should also find a way to learn to sing piano and pianissimo. Rodolfo is a poet and he sounded more like a hero than a poet. His high A’s in the quartet (ch’io da vero poeta rimavo con carezze & alla staggion dei fior) need to be moments of pure unadulterated poetry. Sometimes, those moments are better expressed in hushed tones and not the other way around.

Gustav Andreassen’s Colline made a major contribution to the opera today. This bass voice said “Here I am” from the moment he came on stage. I hope we’ll see more from this singer, it is a major instrument and his Colline could not be ignored today. He was funny, blustery, perfect. I do have a request for this singer, he might need to rethink the way he approaches the aria Vecchia Zimarra. He sang it beautifully and there should be no complaints, BUT, he was much too present in the aria. The moment is a soliloquy, an aside. His voice did not scale down to the requirements of the aria. That was exactly the moment that I wanted to hear him sing piano and pianissimo. I wanted him to melt us with the softness of his singing and he didn’t. Once this aria is conquered, this is a Colline to watch and a bass to celebrate.

Laura Pedersen’s Musetta was funny, if a little restrained. I heard her and I felt that she would be better suited to the role of Mimi herself. Her voice is creamy, a quality that I usually do not associate with a Musetta (I usually prefer my Musettas with a brighter tone), but to say that she didn’t sing well would be unfair. She attacked the role of Musetta with gusto and fire. Still, somehow, her Musetta was not the hell raiser that I wished we had. I see Musetta as a woman who is not afraid to create hell if that is what is needed to get what she wants. Ms Pedersen was a little more restrained than most Musettas. Maybe what we have is a Mimi brewing and it might be time for Ms. Pedersen to move to Mimi…

The roles of Schaunard and Parpignol were sung with Gusto by Chad Reagan (Schaunard) and Rev. Michael Magiera (Parpignol). Mr. Reagan cuts quite a dashing figure on stage, acts well and he is still maturing both as an artist and a singer. His Schaunard was smaller scale than most, but I do not want to give you the impression that he was less effective for it. Your instrument is what your instrument is and you should not push it to do things it does not want to do; Mr. Reagan did just that. He has been recently covering a lot and it is a great experience to get a role where you get to be on stage. Guys, let’s bring him again as Guglielmo or Masetto. It could be that the orchestration might’ve been a little too big for this stage of his development and Mozart might showcase his voice better.

Any opera company will tell you that their strengths lays a lot in the strength of their co-primarios. Indianapolis Opera is extremely lucky to have Mark Gilgallon to sing roles for them. Over the years I have seen Mark sing Alidoro, Fiorello and other roles. He is never less than committed on stage and when he is on, you can not take your eyes off him. Today was no exception. He sang Alcindoro/Benoit and he was fabulous on both of them. He is not necessarily a bass, his voice might be too high for both roles but who cares when you have such a great actor. His comedic timing is impeccable. During Musetta’s walz, he sang his line (Quel canto surrile…) while shoved in Musetta’s chest. Instead of singing the lines in a big basso lines, he sang them high, like he was loosing air, My God it was funny! The audience laughed and at the end of the act, he earned a well deserved ovation.

Indianapolis Opera hit a great one with this Boheme. Their next performances will be The Mikado on March 19th and 21. If you happen to be in the area, make sure you attend.

Which brings me to the topic of supporting your local opera company. Today, I was reminded how important it is. Yes, going to the Met and the Lyric and all these glamorous houses is fun, but for opera to survive, it has to survive at the local level. So don’t be irresponsible like I was and make sure that your local opera company gets your support. Attend as many performances as you can. If you can pay for a ticket to get to NYC, the hotel, the outrageous ticket prices and the rest, you have no excuse for not attending your local opera company’s performances.

When the Met performs in HD, they say visit your local Company, so they know how important it is, FOLLOW THEIR ADVISE. Take pride in your local company and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. It could be a lot worse, you could be in a place where you’d have to wait for the Met in HD (artificial opera) or have to pay thousands of dollars just to see 1 or 2 performances a year. Also, visiting your local opera company reduces your carbon footprint, so it is good for the environment. So check your local opera company’s schedule and pay them a visit, you’ll feel like the prodigal son, I guarantee you will.

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November 24, 2009 - Posted by | Opera Review |

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