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Two Nights Of LA Opera's 'La Boheme' Will Conducted By Gustavo Dudamel

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Like the Met in New York, LA Opera long ago commissioned an Academy Award-nominated film director to create a lavish stage production of Puccini's La Boheme, arguably the most popular opera of them all, and brings it back every few years for another crowd-pleasing run. The late Herbert Ross created this production for the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1993, and it's now playing there for the seventh time. The big occasion this go-round is that LA Philharmonic superstar chief conductor Gustavo Dudamel will be performing across First Street from his usual Disney Hall home to make his LA Opera debut in the last two performances of Boheme this season on June 10 and 12.

Before Dudamel joins for those two dates, the LA Opera Boheme is running for several performances under the baton of up-and-coming Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci, with alternating singers in the three lead roles. UCLA Opera Studies Director Peter Kazaras directs the action in this year's revival.

It is quite a spectacle, this 23-year-old Boheme production, enhancing the familiar story of charismatically penurious artists in 19th-century Paris with elaborate stage designs that evoke the romantic social exuberance of the Belle Epoque. A still-uncompleted Eiffel Tower looms behind the protagonists' residential attic and the Latin Quarter cafe scene captures every idealistic notion of the era of Zola and Toulouse-Lautrec, culminating in the bountiful unfurling of French tricolores in the grandiose military procession that punctuates the end of the opera's first half. It's all a bit over the top, but the characterizations shaped by Kazaras remain earthy and playful amid the sumptuous visual excess.

Maestra Scappucci maintains a predominately rapid tempo in all four of the opera's scenes as well as an orchestral dynamic that occasionally overwhelms the singers, especially before the intermission. Still, Moldovan soprano Olga Busuioc, making her LA Opera debut the night we attended, stood out powerfully and beautifully in the lead role of Mimi. Baritone Nicholas Brownlee offered a moving delivery of the always affecting aria of farewell to the old coat that his character, Colline, is compelled to sell toward the end of Boheme. Giorgio Caoduro and Amanda Woodbury are appealingly tempestuous as on-again-off-again lovers Marcello and Musetta, while Kihun Yoon is a high-spirited addition to this group of friends as Schaunard. Guatemalan tenor Mario Chang, also making his company debut with this production, portrays an amiably low-key poet Rodolfo, every bit as surprised as his friends at the romantic good fortune that comes his way in the opera's first half and heartbreakingly devastated at the drama's conclusion.

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So far, this year's Boheme performance plays up the romantic comedy with an unhappy ending which inspired the musical Rent and other homages more than it lingers on Puccini's impossibly gorgeous melodies. Of course Dudamel, who was conducting the Phil in Mozart and Arvo Pärt right next door while we were watching the opera last week, could substantially reorient the production's gestalt when he takes over next month. We'd go see it then.

La Boheme runs for five more performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.