Opera delights in a couple of ways

By JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic
Published November 18, 2007

TAMPA - Opera buffs have their favorite moments, and one near the top of every list is the Christmas Eve encounter of Rodolfo and Mimi in La Boheme. Gregory Schmidt and Darryn Zimmer acquitted themselves well as the fateful twosome in Opera Tampa's production of the Puccini classic Friday at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Schmidt's easeful upper range was on splendid display in Rodolfo's aria, Che gelida manina, after Mimi came knocking at the poet's garret door. Zimmer doesn't have a large voice, but she projects clearly and related the seamstress' story with affecting modesty. When the pair sang Amor! Amor! Amor!, it was a beautiful moment.

The relationship of Boheme's other couple, Musetta and Marcello, was played for laughs by Olga Chernisheva and Guido Le Bron at Cafe Momus. Chernisheva, wearing a gorgeous red dress, stopped the show with Quando me'n vo, ending her waltz on a perky trill, while Le Bron emoted operatically.

Nat Chandler brought a ringing tone to the musician Schaunard, and Stephan Kirchgraber, playing Colline, cut through the heaviness of the philosopher's coat aria with lightness of touch. Stefanos Koroneos doubled as fall guys Alcindoro and Benoit.

Conductor Anton Coppola favored broad tempos that allowed singers freedom of phrasing, as in the creamy legatos of the Rodolfo-Mimi duets. The orchestra brass had plenty of punch in the fanfare and march of Act 2, and the strings were sweeping in the finale when the dying Mimi rose from bed and reached out for Rodolfo.

The chorus, decked out in lavish costumes from Utah Opera, sounded good, and the children's chorus added angelic sweetness. Joseph Bascetta's direction was as conventional as can be, with handsome sets from Opera Carolina. Joseph Oshry's lighting bathed the opening garret and the Act 3 dawn in chilly blues.

A final note: Opera Tampa has a weakness for pre-performance speeches by president Judith Lisi and sponsors that can dull an audience's sense of anticipation. Maybe that comes with the territory when you're trying to muster support for the arts, but on Friday there was also a pitch by opera great Sherill Milnes and Maria Zouves, the company's husband-wife artistic adviser and associate artistic director, respectively, between the second and third acts. Enough already. Puccini's opera speaks just fine for itself, thank you.

John Fleming can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or fleming@sptimes.com.

If you go

La Boheme

Opera Tampa stages the Puccini opera at 2 p.m. today at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. $59.50-$99.50. (813) 229-7827; www.tbpac.org.