As the hurricane threatened outside, the atmosphere at the Imperial Theatre offered the lucky audience an enchanting evening of escape Wednesday when Augusta Opera presented its opening-night performance of La Boheme. It was a first-rate performance, and this assessment doesn't even have to be qualified with the statement "for a town this size."
We were transported to Paris in the heart of winter, into the lives of struggling bohemian artists in the Latin Quarter. It is a timeless love story, told through some of the most beautiful melodies ever composed.
This story is so appealing because it is about ordinary people with only friendship and love in their hearts to sustain them. There are no stock royal or heroic characters usually associated with opera.
Opera lovers who attend a Puccini opera, especially La Boheme, have certain wishful hopes. There is the hope that the heartstrings will be pulled and a few tears wiped away as the gorgeous arias unfold; the hope of feeling the same bone-chilling cold the struggling artists do as they try to stay warm. All these hopes were fulfilled by a strong cast of singers, effective stage direction and lighting, and an exceptional orchestra.
The ever-famous arias were beautifully performed, and the falling night snow in Act 3 brought shivers. The only non-Pucciniesque aspect to the performance was the reduced size of the orchestral forces. And yet, this adapted "chamber" aesthetic worked quite appropriately in the Imperial Theatre and justly complemented the singers.
The music coming from the pit was superb, especially the string playing, as the orchestra melded effortlessly with the singers.
The singers also offered a more intimate interpretation of the opera. Only tenor Roy Cornelius Smith (as Rodolfo) made one stop to think how such a robust voice might have sounded more effective in a larger hall. As the poet who falls madly in love with the seamstress Mimi, Rodolfo saves his most impassioned singing for the final anguished moments of the opera. It made for a truly chilling effect.
Elena Kolganova presented a gentle and noble Mimi through beautifully sculpted singing. In contrast, the other female lead, Musetta (performed by Kelly Cae Hogan), was flirty and fabulous, stealing the show in her Act 2 aria Quando me'n vo' soletta per la via. Her voice was bright and seductive, expressing her temptress character.
William Andrew Stuckey (as Marcello, the painter), offered strong support as both Musetta's possessive lover and Rodolfo's best friend. Kirk Walker (as Schaunard) and Craig Hart (as Colline) also were wonderful. Colline's final act bass aria (Song of the Coat) was especially moving and memorable.
Now that the hurricane has passed and opening night is over, the remaining performances of La Boheme promise even more energy and spontaneity. Augusta Opera has done it again, offering the community a production of the highest quality.
What: Augusta Opera's La Boheme
When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday; 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.
How much: $5-$40
Clara Park has a doctoral degree in music from Yale University and is on the faculty at Georgia Southern and Augusta State Universities.