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The final scene from Mercury Opera's "La Boheme." // Jordan Abel

Review: Mercury Opera’s La Boheme

La Boheme
Mercury Opera; Chez Pierre Cabaret; Until Sat., Mar. 9 (7 p.m. nightly); Italian with subtitles.
Our Score
La Boheme

Walking into Chez Pierre you’re greeted by a sandwich board that reads “Christmas Eve ’79” and some festive decorations with a bohemian twist. You haven’t even made it to the coat check, and already you’re immersed in Mercury Opera’s production of Puccini’a La Boheme.

The most impressive aspect of the show for a relatively inexperienced opera goer (like myself) is that, in such a small venue, the performers are sometimes only inches from the audience, which is a far cry from sitting in a huge auditorium a dozen rows back from the stage. And it’s not just that it’s a very immediate experience of the music—the orchestra, led by conductor Adam Szmidt, was likewise in close proximity to the patrons—but also that it demands more of the performers. When the actors are inches from the people watching them, you have to be 100 percent on every moment of the show, and the cast of La Boheme did not disappoint.

Tenor Adam Fisher plays one of the four lovers of the opera, Rodolfo, and his aria in the first act, where Rodolfo sings to Mimi, is a powerful performance, setting a high bar. Michaela Chiste, playing Mimi, rises to the occasion with her aria, which follows immediately after, and the two keep up their emotional performances throughout.

Ian Fundytus, playing Schaunard, opens the second act with an Italian version of “Santa Baby” that, while clearly not part of Puccini’s original vision, suits the tone of the scene that follows, and gives Fundytus the opportunity to further build on his comedic performance. Colline, played by Roland Burks, and Schaunard provide a lot of the comic relief in the show, but Burks really shines in the finale when he delivers an emotional musical soliloquy.

Competing with Fundytus for best performance in the second act is Andrea Gedrasik, playing Musetta. She perfectly inhabits the character and brings both her flirtatious and firey qualities to the stage. Though Spencer Kryzanowski, playing Musetta’s wealthy lover Alcindoro, does threaten to steal the entire scene with his great comedic performance.

The second act is also where director Darcia Parada’s site-specific vision really starts to show itself. The characters move around the venue, using the bar and the pool table as part of the set. The mirror behind the stage is also used to great effect in this scene. While Shaunard performs, the audience can see Marcello (Lukas Johan) and Colline leaning against the bar in the mirror. The fact that Chez Pierre’s bartender is also back there tending drinks and cleaning glasses adds great authenticity. And there’s also a mirror behind the bar, so you can also Schaunard reflected back into the mirror behind the stage.

Johan’s performance as Marcello is most compelling in the second part of the opera as he both battles with Musetta and acts as confidant to Mimi and Rodolfo. The duet between Johan and Fisher in the fourth act is especially entrancing, as both men have fantastic voices and deliver moving performances.

As mentioned, the production makes great use of Chez Pierre’s natural atmosphere for its setting, but there are also some set pieces. They are minimal, but on point, and the apartment Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard and Colline share in the first act very much evokes the 1979 setting.

The costumes were also fantastic. Musetta and Schaunard of course have the flashiest costumes, but while the others wear more subtle wardrobes, they still suit their characters perfectly. For instance, Marcello, a painter, has random splatters of paint on his pants. The one misstep may have been the sweater Mimi wears in the final scene, which says “Au Revoir” in gold sequined letters across the front—it seemed a little too on the nose.

Overall, Mercury Opera delivers a great production of La Boheme, which will appeal to both the novice and veteran opera goer.

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