MOT’s La Boheme features sublime Mimi by Nicole Cabell
There can’t be any spoiler alerts left with Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme, can there? It is the most performed opera in the world, and the story has been spread further by the popularity of the musical Rent.
But let this be the only spoiler, which isn’t really a spoiler at all. Soprano Nicole Cabell, who graced the Michigan Opera Theatre stage last season in La Traviata as Violetta, is sublime as the tragic Mimi. Her vocals are ethereal, and she embodies the tragic, layered character of the poor, opportunistic tubercular fighting to survive and to love before death finally takes her. Cabell plays the part again on October 21 and 24. Soprano Lina Tetriani, making her MOT debut, will play the role on Oct. 25.
Cabell is surrounded by excellent co-stars and worthy ensemble. Tenor Sean Panikkar, a University of Michigan graduate, makes his MOT debut as Rodolfo, Mimi’s love. Pannikar’s vocals are bright and soaring, his stage presence capturing the right energy for this character nearly every minute. And he has excellent control over his vocals to adapt to the acting required as Mimi’s frustrated and jealous lover. Tenor Eric Margiore will play Rodolfo on Oct. 25. Baritone Rodion Pogossov as Marcello, the painter, has wonderful stage presence also, with his comedic and serious acting done with equal craft.
In the supporting role of Musetta, Marina Costa-Jackson is a scene stealer, which is by no means a criticism. Her role as the tarty vamp who uses her sex appeal to get what she wants is written to light up the stage, and the lovely Ms. Costa-Jackson does exactly that, while also changing gears at the appropriate time to worry over Mimi.
Boheme is based on a 19th century Henri Murger novel, Scenes de la vie de Boheme, which is a series of vignettes about Bohemians scratching out a living in the Latin quarter of Paris. Though the story focuses on the love between Mimi and Rodolfo and the decline of Mimi, which starts with the first coughs in the first act, there is plenty of light-heartedness and sweet comedy throughout. The story opens, for example, with Marcello, Rodolfo and their friends burning pages of the play Rodolfo has been working on as icicles have formed on the skylight of their flat. Later, while the group is out drinking and eating at a club, Musetta has accompanied her sugar-daddy Alcindoro whom she plays for a lavish dinner and champagne, and then sticks him with the bill of her Bohemian friends.
The music of La Boheme is often criticized by ultra serious operaphiles for being too simple, not textured enough. This is unfair to Puccini, and to conductor Leonardo Vordoni and the wonderful orchestra. It is a story that is so relatable to even casual opera patrons that Boheme is a crowd pleaser that puts butts in the seats wherever it is performed. It is the ninth Boheme done by MOT in 45 years. And with over familiarity, unfortunately, comes a certain amount of contempt. Still, it is nice to go to the opera and see a very full house enjoying themselves and lavishing praise on a superior production.
A story of struggle, love, jealousy, choices made of necessity rather than passion, tragedy and death. It is the stuff of life for most of the planet. And Puccini’s music combined with the libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa created a work with timeless appeal.
To the credit of Director Mario Corradi, there are not any attempts to re-do Boheme here. He honors the work and the expectations of the audience without it ever being dull or overly pat. That one can stick pretty much to the script, as familiar as it is, without drawing yawns, is a testament to the fine casting choices and wonderful performances, especially of Ms. Cabell, Ms. Costa-Jackson, Mr. Pannikar and Mr. Pogossov.