Monday, April 25, 2011

Opera San Jose, La Boheme

April 23, 2011

By Michael J. Vaughn

For the simple reason that the critic has now seen 637 Bohemes (and, yes, tends to exaggerate), let’s take this review in a highly randomized fashion. Beginning with…

1) The wine glasses. For years, I have experienced a vague irritation over OSJ’s refusal to put anything fluid in its glasses. Is this a union thing? Worker safety? Lack of a liquor license? But they’ve worked out a nice compromise, painting a strip of red at the bottom of their glasses so they at least appear to contain wine. Hey, it’s a step forward.

2) In the barely controlled chaos of the Café Momus scene, the company threw in a juggling stilt-walker. Nice touch!

3) I’m always intrigued by the carefully timed gate-shouts of the workers and milkmaids that begin Act 3. (I know they’re difficult, because they’re so often messed up.) Not this time. Conductor David Rohrbaugh and his choristers were right on the mark.

4) Love the addition of a bathtub to the garret set – especially since it was used most often for dining. Colline, in fact, dined while seated inside. The bonhomie amongst the boys was first-rate, with special marks for baritone Daniel Cilli as a sprightly Schaunard. OSJ is blessed with male performers these days, and the man-heavy Boheme certainly illustrates the point.

5) How nice, when you lose a Rodolfo and Musetta to voice issues, to call the Bengochea household and get some handy replacements. Hubbie Christopher is taking Rodolfo for the alternate cast. Wife Sandra – lately focusing her talents on stage directing – takes over the Café Momus scene like Rosalind Russell taking over Auntie Mame. The latest addition to her comic tricks is an absurdly long kiss with Marcello (baritone Torlef Borsting), and the way she blurts out her sudden affliction (Musetta’s excuse to get rid of her annoying patron) is priceless.

6) Each new viewing reveals another spot where Puccini foreshadows or reprises his aria motifs. This one, for me, was a whisper of “Che gelida manina” as Rodolfo mentions an article he has to write for The Beaver. (And perhaps while I’m writing it a consumptive beauty will appear at my doorstep.)

7) And while we’re on Rodolfo, Alexander Boyer has such a gorgeous lyric tenor – and delivers it with such ease – that you almost have to hate him. Hard to hate him, though, since he radiates an innocent, slightly awkward quality that makes a perfect match for Rodolfo.

8) Soprano Jasmina Halimic enjoys these same advantages – she just looks like Mimi, and also possesses a gorgeous lyric tone, so broad and buttery at the top that it evokes thoughts of Tebaldi. (All in all, these two are enough to make an opera fanatic pass out.) Halimic’s lines are strikingly spare, more involved with character than display, but she does provide some enchanting dynamic swells – notably in a unison line with Boyer in “O soave fanciulla.” The real revelation, however, is Mimi’s dialogue with Marcello in Act 3, as she relates her recent breakup with Rodolfo and her worries about her health. Halimic and stage director Timothy Near have fashioned a Mimi tormented by shadows, bringing an intensity to this scene that I’ve never witnessed.

Image: Alexander Boyer and Jasmina Halimic. Photo by Robert Shomler

Through May 8, California Theatre, 345 South First Street, San Jose. $51-$101, 408/437-4450,

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of the novel Operaville, available at