I made a delightful new discovery this evening, though it was long overdue.
For the first time, my wife and went (with a friend) to the Covey Center for the Arts, in Provo. We should have gone a long time ago; it’s a very nice facility.
We attended a performance of Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème, put on by the Utah Lyric Opera.
We’ve regularly attended the Utah Opera in Salt Lake City and, in summers, Michael Ballam’s Utah Festival Opera in Logan, but we had never paid any attention to the Utah Lyric Opera. None.
So, going to the performance tonight, I wasn’t expecting much. But I was surprised. It was a very, very creditable performance, and it was only a few minutes from our house.
This is the kind of thing that residents of Utah Valley who care about their community and about the arts ought to be patronizing and supporting. Fortunately, there was a good crowd there tonight, including the balcony.
A few words about the performance itself:
Our friend, who has graduate training and professional experience in choral conducting and performance (and who sings with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), thought that the orchestra was a bit too loud for the singers. Perhaps that was true, though my own far less musical ear wasn’t bothered by it. But she thoroughly enjoyed the performance, as did we.
The singers were quite strong. And, though they’re mostly based in Utah, they’re far from rank amateurs. (This isn’t just community theater for local hams.) Among them, they have experience with the BYU School of Music, Utah Festival Opera, Phoenix Opera, San Antonio Opera, Central City Opera (Colorado), Opera San Jose, Utah Symphony and Opera, Ash Lawn Opera Festival, Opera Santa Barbara, Seattle Opera, and Wolftrap Opera, as well as on Broadway. Lisa Hopkins (Seegmiller), who sang the role of Mimì, is a returned missionary (Austria Vienna) and lives in St. George, Utah, but was trained in acting and classical voice at both Yale University and the Manhattan School of Music, was nominated for the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording, and received a 2003 Tony Award for her portrayal of Mimì in Baz Luhrmann’s 2002-2003 Broadway production of La Bohème.
Are you beginning to get a sense for what you missed?
The set was minimal, but that’s fine. The acting was good, and the fact that the singers were actually young — as the characters are supposed to be — was a plus.
This staging of the opera placed it in the late 1940s (almost precisely a century after the period in which its events are supposed to have taken place and in which it’s typically set), which actually works quite well — except for five incompatibilities that I noticed:
1) While Mimì sings about her “bonnet,” the item of clothing used in this version was actually a red beret.
2) At one point, the starving friends kneel before a coin — a rare bit of money that has come into their lives — with image of their king, Louis-Phillippe, on it. But, in the late 1940s, Louis-Phillippe had been deposed for a century, and dead for very nearly the same length of time. The next French “king,” Gen. Charles DeGaulle — for so he almost seems to have thought himself — was still a decade from assuming national leadership.
3) Musetta fakes a pain in her foot in order to send her aged lover Alcindoro away, first telling him to “untie” her shoe. But, in this setting, she was wearing high heels.
4) Rodolfo, inventing a fictional reason for breaking off his relationship with Mimì, claims to Marcello that she’s a flirt who “bares her ankle” to just about every man who passes by. Meanwhile, in this staging, she’s hiding within ear shot, wearing a knee-length dress. It shows a lot of “ankle.”
5) Finally, toward the end of the opera, Rodolfo (a poet) sings a complaint about how terrible his pen is. But, in this version, he’s just been writing on a manual typewriter.
But these are silly little things. Purely for amusement, they’re not even complaints. The staging and costuming worked very well for me, and, of course, Puccini’s music is always enjoyable and, at several points, achingly beautiful.
Again, if this is the kind of thing it’s going to do, the Utah Lyric Opera merits enthusiastic support from its community. It will certainly have mine.