The Los Angeles Opera Buffs have impressed us again, this time with a stunning concert performance of Puccini’s La Bohème. At Zipper Hall at the Colburn School in Downtown Los Angeles, almost every seat was taken in the audience and onstage. While “the Buffs” have been hosting showcases and scenes for more than twenty years, this is only their second full-length offering, created in concert format, and these annual concert operas are clearly a hit. (The first was last year’s Carmen.) People from various walks of life were keen to hear what promised to be a grand performance, with young, up-and-coming opera stars fit to sing in almost any opera house in the world.
The Opera Buffs have long been an important door for local singers wishing to gain access to those who love and support opera. It is the accumulation of these smaller doors opening that later lead to bigger opportunities, and ultimately, successful professional careers. For a young singer in Los Angeles, the Opera Buffs is definitely a step in the right direction. And what better way to see the fruits of their labors than to see the singers whose careers have already been helped by this organization, performing at various stages of their careers.
Singing the lead roles of Mimi and Rodolfo, respectively, were Julianna Di Giacomo and Joshua Guerrero. Both have unbelievably strong, healthy instruments that are a joy to hear. With Guerrero, it was clear that he feels comfortable in the role of Rodolfo and has a strong sense of purpose in his character’s choices. Di Giacomo has that type of golden, mellow soprano tone that is almost required to sing Mimi. And while she may not have shown the same comfort in her character as her colleague, she still managed to break our hearts.
Mimi and Rodolfo were not alone onstage. There, too, was Ben Lowe singing a stellar Marcello. Lowe has a rich baritone voice that boasts of a great lower register as well as high. Musetta, sung by Jacquelynne Fontaine, was the lighter of the voices, though she held her own and was engaging to watch with her serious acting chops. Colin Ramsey, who sang Colline, had such a deep and strong voice that it was like a rich dessert — with all of the pleasure and none of the guilt. Also quite notable were the singing from Ryan Thorn as Schaunard, and Luvi Avendano, doubling as Benoît and Alcindoro.
The difficult task of conveying the story of a beloved opera without props and costumes was left to Michael Van Duzer. It was a job well done. There were laughs in all the right places… and tears, of course. Lots of tears. Puccini’s magnificent score that was brought to life by conductor Brent McMunn. It is not easy to conduct the orchestra and chorus while the soloists are behind you. There were a couple of hiccups, but nothing too distracting. It is all part of the lesson one learns of having to do the best you can under all circumstances.
All that the Opera Buffs bring to Los Angeles is to be greatly admired, and one only hopes they will continue for years to come. Not only does this organization provide financial support and opportunities for singers to practice their craft, they also bring their many alumni back to remind us of the power of those little doors and those small steps that lead to big, wide world of professional opera.