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Walking through downtown Asheville to get to the Diana Wortham Theatre for Asheville Lyric Opera’s La Bohème was not unlike entering the Café Momus scene itself in Act II, but with some bohemian Asheville Quarter twists — among my sightings were a guy dressed up in a prom dress, another in a tutu, and adult hula hoopers everywhere jiving to their own inner music. Standing innocuously on the sidewalk amid the revelry was a small sign reading simply “Opera Tonight,” an indication that within all the cultural diversity that is Asheville, this, too has its place and matters. And how — to judge from the high level of local involvements (financial and artistic) and a string of sold-out performances!
There were many performers and contributors already known to Asheville audiences. Director David Carl Toulson had led three previous ALO productions (Carmen, Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Rigoletto). Robert Hart Baker, Principal Guest Conductor for ALO and former Director and Conductor of the Asheville Symphony, returned to the podium to lead the small pit orchestra. Michael Porter prepared the Lyric Opera Chorus. The set design, quite simple and in muted shades, supplied the “unencumbered pallet” on which the story unfolded. The opera was performed uncut and in Italian, with English supertitles.
The local connections extended to the principal singers. There was Jason Baldwin, who’d debuted with the company in 2000 in the moving lead role of Rodolfo, and Dominic Aquilino, currently on the faculties of Mars Hill College and Western Carolina University, as an animated and often comical Marcello. Rounding out the quartet of Bohemians was Brent David as Schaunard and Ardean Landhuis as Colline. Roberto Flores performed double duty as the aged Alcindoro and Benoit, and Matthew Boutwell was the charming toy peddler Parpignol. Christina Villaverde gave an appealingly edgy and provocative characterization of Musetta. Stealing the show was Angela Amidei as Mimi, an artist whose flawless musical technique and unwavering dramatic veracity were perfectly suited to the role.
There was so much to like about the production. There was a mix of fine local and imported talent, the lively staging, the chemistry between each pair of lovers, the easy rapport among the four garret-dwellers, the look of the production from costumes to hair to set design — all made for a satisfying performance. Within the intimate space of The Diana Wortham Theatre, every seat is a good one. While the balance between singers and orchestra was generally good, a slightly larger orchestra (especially strings) would have better served Puccini’s sumptuous score.
ALO's production of La Bohème repeats 4/2; for details, see the sidebar.