Get Out Your Handkerchiefs
The Florentine has great cast to take on Puccini’s heartbreaker La Bohème.
Not many MIlwaukeeans realize this, but the Florentine Opera is the nation’s sixth oldest opera company. Founded in 1933 to perform Italian opera, the Florentine over the years expanded its repertoire to include all the great works of this international art form. But to mark its 80th anniversary, this season has emphasized Italian opera, culminating in this week’s grand finale, Giacomo Puccini’s soaring La Bohème.
“It’s a piece with no wasted moments,” says the Florentine’s general director, William Florescu, who is directing the production.
The 1895 masterpiece tells the tragic story of a young Bohemian, Rodolfo, and his newly found love, Mimi, who struggle to cope with Mimi’s failing health amid a bitter winter and terrible poverty. The lovers are joined by Rodolfo’s three roommates — Marcello, Schaunard and Colline — and Marcello’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Musetta, to deliver some of the most emotionally powerful arias in opera history.
“La Bohème is such a poignant story and such popular opera because it’s so true,” says soprano Alyson Cambridge, who will make her Florentine debut in the role of Mimi. “It’s like an opera version of ‘Friends.’”
Cambridge is part of a national all-star cast, including tenor Noah Stewart, who returns to the Florentine to take on the Rodolfo character, and singers new to the Florentine: Corey McKern (Marcello), Katrina Thurman (Musetta) and Matthew Treviño (Colline). Former Florentine studio artist Scott Johnson will also return for his role as Schaunard.
The cast, as it turns out, is quite chummy. “We’ve almost all sung La Bohème together at some point in time,” Cambridge says. “We’re all friends offstage and onstage — so we have this natural Bohemian chemistry to begin with.”
Cambridge in particular has developed a reputation for performing La Bohème. This is the singer’s 15th or 16th time taking the part of either Mimi or Musetta. Cambridge comes naturally to this: In preparing for her first performance as Mimi, she was coached by Mirella Freni, one of the great singers who took on the heroine alongside Luciano Pavarotti. Her time with Freni was “mind-blowing,” Cambridge says.
But La Bohème remains a great a challenge, she says: “You have to try — if you can — to not put too much pressure on yourself. You can’t think that the audience is comparing yourself Freni, because, while that is inevitable, we just have to go out there and sing the way we sing.”
For the Florentine’s principal conductor and artistic advisor Joseph Rescigno, a key to a good performance is fidelity to the text. “I tell the artists, ‘Don’t sing what you think the music means, sing what the text says,’” Rescigno says. “For me, what’s primary is that the emotional realities as they were written come through.”
Puccini, also known for his dramatic works Madame Butterfly and Tosca, was the last master of what is known as the “verismo” style of operas — a post-Romantic realist style that included such late 19th-century composers as Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo.
The movement is saturated with the high-flying arias that are so characteristic of La Bohème. But Rescigno argues that Puccini’s roots go much deeper, all the way back to Mozart.
“Puccini, more than any other composer I know, is very concise,” Rescigno says. “He’s almost like a painter who can not only do a great canvas, but can also create a sketch that just perfectly captures a scene.”
La Bohème also shows the influence of Wagner, and uses his style of motifs for each character: using a quick group of notes as a symbol of his or her entrance onto a scene. The themes transform over the course of the play, slowing down or speeding up to capture the mood of the scene and to further develop the characters.
The Florentine last perfomed La Bohème in it’s 2004-05 season, but each production can find something new in it. “We think the different performers in this production represent the diversity of what the operatic form is today,” Florescu says. “Even a hundred-year-old story like La Bohème can speak to today.”
7:30 p.m. on May 9 and 2:30 p.m. on May 11, at the Marcus Center. Ticket prices vary for section and are available online or by calling (414) 291-5700.
Other events coming up:
Frankly Music concludes season with 8 Is Enough
The Florentine is not the only Milwaukee music company going big the end of its season this week. Frankly Music is also preparing for a season finale, featuring two octets by Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn.
The concert will include appearances by such musicians as cellist Andrien Zitoun, clarinetist Todd Levy, Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim, and of course, Frank Almond.
7 p.m. on May 12, Schwann Concert Hall at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Tickets range from $10-$39 and are available online.
Ensemble Music Offering celebrates Bach
The Ensemble Music Offering will also conclude its season at the Cathedral Church of All Saints, in a concert celebrating the 300th anniversary of Carl Phillip Emanual Bach, musical prodigy composer and son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach.
The performance will feature harpsichordist and 2013 Grammy Nominee Jory Vinikour to deliver CPE Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D Mino.
8 p.m. on May 10. Tickets range from $10-$35 and are available online or by calling (414) 475-5061.
Diamonds by Concord Chamber Orchestra
The Concord Chamber Orchestra will serve up a mix of perennial favorites in this week’s concert headlined by the delightful overture to Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Serville.
The concert, titled Diamonds, is the last of four concerts named after the suits in the deck of cards.
8 p.m. on May 10 at St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Tickets are $18 and are available online.