Elizabeth Caballero and Alok Kumar as Mimi and Rodolfo, with conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in the Fort Worth Opera's semi-staged performance of “La bohème.” (credit: Freddie Watkins)

Fort Worth Opera on the road to resurgence in excellent semi-staged “La bohème”

PERFORMANCE REVIEW:
Fort Worth Opera
April 5 & 7, 2024
Bass Performance Hall
Ft. Worth, TX – USA
Giacomo PUCCINI: La bohème
Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor; Chuck Hudson, director. Cast: Elizabeth Caballero (Mimi), Alok Kumar (Rodolfo), Daniel Scofield (Marcello), Meigui Zhang (Musetta), Michael Colman (Schaunard), Kofi Hayford (Colline), Kevin Glavin (Alcindoro/Benoit), Su Hyeon-Park (Mimi – cover). Creative: Jamie Milligan, lighting design; Julian Reed, chorus master; Charlene Lotz, music preparation.

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs | 9 APR 2024

Often given up for dead in recent years, the Fort Worth Opera appears to be in revival mode. A series of miscast executive directors have come and (fortunately) gone, and the company is now in the able hands of Angela Turner Wilson. She is an experienced singer and producer, but perhaps best of all, she is well-known and admired locally. On Friday night, we saw the first fruits of her efforts—a semi-staged production of Puccini’s three-hanky opera La bohème.

When hearing the qualifying term “semi-staged,” one fears the worst, especially in the grand setting of previous full productions at Bass Performance Hall. These early fears appeared to be pending when there were only a few chairs, a table, and a pot-bellied stove on the apron of the stage. The Fort Worth Symphony, with former music director Maestro Miguel Harth Bedoya, posed on the prominently placed podium. However, once the opera started, with its opening scene of horse-play by a quartet of boisterous, impecunious, and starving young bohemian artists, all of these reservations were banished. Director Chuck Hudson kept the action interesting and appropriate yet contained to the small stage area allotted. He was aided by a cast that consisted of a bevy of excellent singing actors who completely inhabited their roles—both physically and vocally.


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As Rudolfo, Alok Kumar possesses a rich and very Italianate tenor voice, although he frequently pushed it beyond the limit of where it could safely go. Utilizing a wider dynamic range would have been welcome, especially since this is one of Puccini’s more lyric tenor roles, but he was believable throughout. Elizabeth Caballero was also believable as Mimi, his consumptive love-at-first-sight inamorata, although her fast vibrato sometimes interfered with Puccini’s soaring melodies.

The other pair of lovers were equally effective. As the painter Marcello, Daniel Scofield put his mellowly rich baritone voice to good use. His singing was more modulated than Kumar’s ever-present tenor, and his impatience with his paramour, good-time girl Musetta, was a simmering pot of barely controlled rage. In that role, Meigui Zhang wasn’t quite the usual frisky and flirtatious coquette we usually see, but her more subtle wandering eye was always apparent. Their third-act blowup was a highlight.


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The other two roommates were ably portrayed by baritone Michael Colman as Schaunard and bass Kofi Hayford as the philosopher Colline. However, Hayford missed the mark in one of the opera’s more poignant moments, when he sings a farewell to his beloved coat as he goes to pawn it to buy some medicine for the dying Mimi. His rendition was oddly cool and offhand, which admittedly is better than the usual sob story delivery.

As proof-positive that there are no small roles, Kevin Glavin gave a scene-stealing performance in the dual roles of the boys’ hapless landlord, Benoit, and Musetta’s most recent meal-ticket and tottering benefactor, Alcindoro. He has a wonderfully resonant voice that elevated his clownish antics and vocally differentiated the two un-similar characters he portrayed.


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The time-appropriate 1890-ish costumes, designed by Kathleen Trott and rented from the Arizona Opera, went a long way towards mitigating the lack of a real set, as did the subtle lighting furnished by Jamie Milligan. He hid the orchestra as best he could with subtle and non-specular lighting, although there was nothing he could do to hide the prominent presence of the active conductor. However, Harth Bedoya did an excellent job of staying on top of the text even though the singers were situated behind his back.

Overall, it was a terrific Bohème despite being minimally presented. The Fort Worth Opera appears to be on the road to recovery. Welcome back!

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About the author:
Gregory Sullivan Isaacs is a Dallas-based composer, conductor, and journalist. He is also a coach and teacher with a private studio.

Read more by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs.
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