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Puccini,  La Bohème:   Kitsap Opera, soloists, cond. Leone Cottrell-Adkins, dir. Tom Sunderland, set designer Emily Andrews, stage manager and choreographer Theresa Ballew, technical direction and lighting design Mark Thomason, Admiral Theatre, Bremerton, WA, 8.11. 2007 (BJ)


Leone Cottrell-Adkins

There is much to be said for pyramidal theories about the health of a musical culture: it is much likelier to be healthy at the top if there is a broad and healthy base to support it. About opera, specifically, it is possible to take a different view. That art form is so complex and sophisticated in its demands that a satisfactory presentation, one might feel, requires a corresponding level of sophistication, and perhaps of experience and professionalism. Grassroots opera, on that view, sounds like an oxymoron.

All the more credit, then, to Kitsap Opera–a largely amateur company that endeavors to keep homegrown opera alive in a largely rural and blue-collar county across Puget Sound from Seattle–for mounting a highly creditable La Bohème as this season’s production at the handsome Admiral Theatre in Bremerton.

It would have been silly to look in this context for the grander effects that characterized Seattle Opera’s Bohème last season. And yet this more intimate, almost domestic production was quite delightful in its own way. Emily Andrews’s sets were simple but effective (and incidentally, an extremely quiet and attentive audience won my gratitude by not disrupting the music with applause for the scenery when the curtain opened). Tom Sunderland’s direction was authoritative in its marshaling of both small and larger groups around the stage, and there was absolutely no silliness to be endured. That may sound like faint praise–but you might be surprised at how often opera directors these days feel the need to use articles of furniture for any purpose other than that they were designed for. So let me congratulate Mr. Sunderland warmly on the fact that nobody sat on a table or stood on a chair.

Such ensemble virtue would, it need hardly be said, be in vain without singers on stage with the ability to project their characters in a manner both convincing and engaging. In this regard, the Kitsap production was close to faultless. The star, and the outstanding figure by a long way, was the tenor Gino Lucchetti as Rodolfo. All the more remarkably given that he was singing with a recently broken arm in a sling, his voice rang out at once commandingly and with ample nuance when that was required, and he portrayed this rather feckless poet as a thoroughly likable figure. Even when he was not singing, his attentive way of watching his Mimì and responding to her was an object-lesson in intelligent stage deportment. In that latter role Christina Kowalski showed a pretty voice and much vocal skill. She is a good-looking young woman, and she too could carry comparable conviction as Mimì if she would only learn that lesson from her Rodolfo–if she would occasionally unknit her brow, unfold her arms, and lift her gaze from the floor. In her occasional moments of animation, she did indeed radiate considerable charm.

Rodolfo’s three Bohemian friends were all strongly cast: Misha Myznikov’s Marcello did everything, vocally and dramatically, that the role demands, Michael Dunlap was a suitably cuddly Colline, and Ryan Christopher Bede, looking every inch the young Great Gatsby, lit up the scene with his tall and elegant presence. Cherie Hughes was a highly believable Musetta–a little shrewish, as she must be, in Acts II and III, but in Mimì’s death-scene touching as she sheds her gold-digger persona to reveal a heart of gold. David Borning offered three fetching cameos as Benoit, Alcindoro, and the custom-house sergeant, and Kenny James did equally well in the smaller roles of Parpignol and the custom officer.

An 18-voice chorus sang and acted with gusto, and the essentially amateur orchestra sounded quite astonishingly accomplished and well-disciplined. Which brings me to the person without whom this brave company could not exist: artistic director Leone Cottrell-Adkins belongs in the grand tradition of gifted female opera animators and conductors (remember Sarah Caldwell of Boston Opera fame?), and she achieved wonders with the forces at her disposal. What a pleasure and privilege it is for Kitsap County’s small but hopefully growing band of aficionados to be able to witness such a production without making the 55-minute ferry trip to Seattle! Grassroots opera this may have been, but the grass was beautifully green.

Bernard Jacobson


The Kitsap Opera Web Site is Here

Picture © Leone Cottrell-Adkins


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