Review: Strong performances make FM Opera's tragic 'La Bohème' thoroughly entertaining
Fargo's Joshua Kohl shines, but newcomers Sarah Tucker, Alex DeSocio and Lisa Buhelos are real revelations.
FARGO — When planning his final season as General Director of the Fargo Moorhead Opera, David Hamilton picked his favorite works and planned on sitting back and enjoying them. Instead, the singer found himself on stage in both shows when the scheduled singers had to bow out because of illness.
Hopefully Hamilton still enjoyed himself Friday night, because the audience certainly did for the opening night of “La Bohème” .
Giacommo Puccini’s opera is one of the greatest tragedies in the genre and some top-notch performances bore that out Friday night at Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University.
Joshua Kohl returns in the lead role as the impoverished poet Rodolfo who finds new inspiration when he meets the seamstress Mimi, played by FM Opera newcomer Sarah Tucker. The stars are well cast and play off each other wonderfully in first act arias in which they introduce themselves. Rodolfo goes first , telling her of his life as a poet with “Che gelida manina (What a frozen little hand)” and Kohl reminds the audience he is quite the dynamic tenor.
As impressive as Kohl is, Tucker takes the spotlight with Mimi’s response, “Si, mi chiamano Mimi (Yes, they call me Mimi)”. In the supertitles we read along that Mimi likes her quiet life sewing and embroidering but really lives for the flowers of springtime, but Tucker’s soaring soprano is anything but plain and ordinary. Her voice lights up the dim room more than the candles they are holding and they soon realize they’ve fallen in love and sing the duet, “O soave faniculla (O gentle maiden)”.
They may not have much, but they have each other. And tuberculosis, but more on that later.
They also have some fun friends. Puccini’s opera famously served as inspiration for Jonathan Larson’s 1996 musical, “Rent” but it could have also laid the groundwork for the buddy comedy genre as Alex DeSocio plays Rodolfo’s roommate, the painter Marcello, as a funny sidekick trying to get over his flirtatious ex, Musetta, played with great energy by Lisa Buhelos, both making their FM Opera mainstage debuts.
DeSocio’s powerful baritone will open eyes and ears, but his comic acting is just as impressive. Similarly Buhelos is vivacious and irresistible as Musetta. Buhelos is one of two 2023 Gate City Bank Young Artists in the show so this gives the audience a chance to see her as she played a minor role in the group’s showcase, “Love Bites,” in February. She doesn’t get the great arias like her fellow soprano, but she’s captivating when she sings the risqué, attention-grabbing “Quando me’n vo (When I go along)”.
Her fellow Gate City Bank Young Artist Gerard Taeeun Moon was a treat in “Love Bites” and while he doesn’t get as much leeway to act outlandishly as the musician friend Schaunard, he makes the most of the role and showcases his rich baritone.
Former Gate City Bank Young artist Lloyd Reshard is back again, having starred in the title role in “The Marriage of Figaro”. As the philosopher friend Colline, he doesn’t have a big role, but the bass/baritone sings a lovely and touching ode to his coat in Act 4, “Vecchia zimarra (Old coat),” before selling the garment to help Mimi who is now very sick.
Even on her deathbed, the character finds the strength to tell Rodolfo that she loves him with all her heart, even though the couple had split so she could date a richer man who could take care of her. Tucker delivers an poerful version of her last heartbreaking aria/duet, “Sono andati? (Have they gone?)” that had people around me sniffling.
Those sniffles dried up when the cast came back on stage and the audience rewarded the great performances with a warm applause.
Frequent FM Opera collaborator Eric Gibson is back as director and delivers another strong show with Michael Ching conducting.
A second staging of the show will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday in Festival Concert Hall.
If you go
What: “La Bohème”
When: 2 p.m., Sunday
Where: Festival Concert Hall, NDSU
Info: Tickets range from $10 to $80, fmopera.org