For its debut production, the brand new Vashon Opera offered a chamber version of “La Boheme” that was sincere, dramatic and well-sung, for the most part.
In Sunday afternoon’s show , after a Friday night opening, the company – comprised of an all-local chorus and musicians, plus several island principals – took Puccini’s popular story of the starving Bohemian artists and set it in World War II Occupied Paris. The move was a good one, allowing for a dashing array of costumes, though not adding a whole lot to the storyline.
Most impressive was the ensemble singing. Company founders Jennifer Krikawa (Mimi) and husband Andrew Krikawa (Marcello) picked a well-balanced and strong cast, which filled the small Vashon High School theater with a richly layered sound. Individually, there were a few disappointments: Karl Reyes sang the poet Rodolfo with an often-nasal tone and one too many flat notes, despite convincing acting, and Jennifer Krikawa’s Mimi was a little cold, though sung strongly. The supertitling left out a few key phrases, and blanked out completely for a brief, lost-looking section.
Yet the rest of the opera went well. Outshining the lead couple (as can happen in this opera) were Marcello (Andrew Krikawa) and Musetta (Elizabeth Ripley). Krikawa, as the love-torn artist, was in full stage control and secure voice; Ripley, who also directed, sang Musetta with delightful flair and excellent dynamic range. Cliff Watson (a rather fuzzy Schaunard) and Michael Dunlap (a bearish Colline) made up the rest of the male quartet of friends, full of contagious good humor.
Part of the success of this opera transformed into chamber version was the simple but clever set, and some good blocking for the chorus scenes, focusing attention like a spotlight on Musetta’s aria and the imaginary parade. Isaac Hughes was the enthusiastic highlight of an enjoyable children’s chorus, and pianist and musical director Evan Stults led the instrumental trio in a sympathetic but dramatic arrangement of the score.
It bodes well for Vashon Opera that their first production sold out a week beforehand, and that the performance so well satisfied what is obviously a high level of community support. The next production will be the children’s opera “Little Red Riding Hood” in February.