If you’re like most people with even a passing interest in opera, chances are you don’t need your arm twisted to go see another production of “La bohème.” But if you’re one of the few on whom the Puccini tearjerker’s charms have been lost, the beautiful production now playing at Utah Opera just might be the one to win you over.
“La bohème” was the first show Utah Opera produced, back in January 1978, so the company has brought the opera back for a seventh time to kick off its 40th season. Artistic director Christopher McBeth has assembled an excellent cast, led by soprano Jennifer Black and tenor Scott Quinn as ill-fated couple Mimì and Rodolfo. They are among the most appealing singers the company has engaged recently, singing with clear, strong technique in Saturday’s opening performance and appearing completely at ease with one another.
Soprano Celena Shafer and baritone Michael Adams are cast as Musetta and Marcello, whose relationship is more volatile but who seem like they’d be more fun at parties. Most of Marcello’s singing on Saturday was done by John Nelson, flown in from Boston at the last possible minute when Adams came down with bronchitis. (It was far too late for Nelson to learn all the blocking, so he sang from the edge of the stage while Adams pantomimed the part.) McBeth is hopeful that Adams can resume the role Wednesday if not sooner. But Nelson is a fine vocalist, and the effect of hearing Marcello’s voice come from the other side of the stage was only mildly distracting.
Shafer, a perennial favorite at Utah Opera, gave a more restrained performance in her role than she did in the company’s 2010 production, but she’s still a force of nature, and she put on a veritable singing clinic in Act 2. Like Marcello, you’ll probably find that resistance is futile.
Baritone Samuel Schultz and bass Ao Li were charming as the other bohemians, Schaunard and Colline. Li’s farewell to Colline’s beloved overcoat was exceptionally moving.
Conductor Robert Tweten led the Utah Symphony in a lovingly detailed performance of the lush Puccini score. Director Kathleen Clawson’s affection for the opera likewise came through clearly in the lovely stage pictures she created as well as in some unexpected moments of fun, such as an amusing bit involving Schaunard and his violin. She also deployed the cast’s physical chemistry — not only in the romantic pairings, but also in the playful camaraderie of the four bohemians — to good effect.
The handsome Peter Dean Beck set, with its sharply raked stage, and Susan Memmott Allred’s costumes gave the production a visual environment befitting its grand sound.
La vie bohème<br>Utah Opera kicks off its 40th-anniversary season with a beautiful production of one of the world’s most popular operas.<br>When • Reviewed Saturday, Oct. 7; continues Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Oct. 9, 11 and 13, 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Oct. 15<br>Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City<br>Running time • About 2 1/2 hours, including intermission<br>Tickets • $21-$103; utahopera.org