Jay Hunter Morris is Rodolfo and Juliana Rambaldi is Mimi in the Hawaii Opera Theatre production of "La Bohème."

Excellent performances and
added touches enrich opera

By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Puccini's "La Bohème" is probably performed more often than any other opera, and it is easy to understand why. Few operas are as tightly structured, with such skillful melding of drama, words and music.

'La Bohème'

Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
When: Today at 4 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Admission: $27 to $95
Call: 596-7372

"La Bohème" is so tightly structured that there is little leeway for interpretation. Productions tend to be remarkably similar because almost everything, including details such as tearing up a manuscript or touching hands, is written into the score.

For Hawaii Opera Theatre's current production, easily the finest of the season, director Henry Akina has not only brought those details to life, but also managed to add a few touches. Mimi, for example, is no shy little thing who meets Rodolfo by accident; instead, she lingers outside his door, waiting to catch him alone. She flirts with others, providing cause for his jealous rages. Akina's characters are complex, believable, and sympathetic.

Lovers matched in both vocal strength and timbre, which helped delineate couples and make them seem "destined" for one another: soprano Juliana Rambaldi (Mimi) and tenor Jay Hunter Morris (Rodolfo) as the bright-voiced, more idealistic primary couple; and soprano Alison England (Musetta) and baritone Quinn Kelsey (Marcello) as the warm-toned, more earthy secondary couple.

All four delivered excellent performances. Rambaldi's lyricism presented a charmingly sweet, gentle Mimi; Morris' high, intense tenor conveyed Rodolfo's anguish; and England's vivacious Musetta had the audience wrapped around her finger.

Kelsey's performance was especially gratifying, partly because he grew up in Hawaii, but mostly because his growth as a performer has been extraordinary over the past year. Always a fine singer, his voice has blossomed and apparently has room to grow even more. It is his acting, however, that has shown the most growth. He and England created real heat on stage and were more than believable as hot-tempered, passionate lovers.

Secondary characters proved equally compelling: bass Wilbur Pauley's "Coat Aria" as Colline was as beautiful as it was touching, bass-baritone James Scott Sikon's "Tale of the Parrot" as Schaunard was warmly comical, and John Mount created wonderful old fools (Mr. Benoit and Acindoro), revealing a bent for character acting. Julius Dae-Sung Ahn (Parpignol) entered oversinging, which harshened his tone, but then relaxed to reveal his usual ringing tenor.

Typically for "La Bohème," the sets, lights, costumes and makeup -- however impressive -- pale beside the characters. Did anyone notice the subtle changes in lighting affecting mood? Or the deep, rich colors of the costumes that made Act II so vibrant?

Probably, but probably not consciously. Everyone was too caught up in the drama.

"La Bohème's" most important character, and the main reason audiences get caught up in the drama, never appeared onstage, for most of "La Bohème's" story is told through the orchestra.

Although conductor Jörg Pitschmann allowed the orchestra to drown out the singers in the first act (difficult to explain when the singers have such large voices), he also allowed singers ample breathing room, created a lush sound-world for the drama, and displayed impeccable timing in both comic and tragic moments.

"La Bohème" may be performed often, but it is not often performed as HOT has done it this time, with its fine cast, detailed interpretation and careful integration.

Ruth O. Bingham reviews classical music and opera for the Star-Bulletin.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --