A lump always forms in my throat in the midst of Act I of Giacomo Puccini’s timeless love story, La bohème, when Rodolfo’s hand for the first time “accidentally” brushes across Mimì’s. A single sustained note from the string section musicalizes their eyes locking at that first scintillating sensation of chemistry and connection. “Che gelida manina!” (Your little hand is so cold!) he whispers tenderly, “Se la lasci riscaldar” (Here, let me warm it in mine).

Why the lump?

Perhaps a tear wells up because tiny hands were what I first noticed about my wife some 34 years ago.

Or maybe it’s because Rodolfo’s aria, introducing himself to Mimì, for years was “our song,” and my wife would listen silently while I squawked in my uncultivated tenor voice. It’s so easy to identify with Puccini’s wonderstruck youth and the demure girl before him, whom he contemplates while holding his breath. “Could this be …?”

Young love.

Tenor Michael Brandenburg’s delivery of “Che gelida manina” is much better than mine: earnest and ardent, totally devoid of grand gestures. It was also a turning point in his performance, seen July 24, when he seemed to hit his stride.

He started placing the voice farther forward, instead of covering or swallowing his own voice. So hearing his lovely tones became a pleasure, not a strain.

The title role.

As Mimì, soprano Raquel González is the perfect blend of sly coquette and modest woman of strength within physical frailty. The gorgeous voice is warm, never shrill or strident, even on the higher reaches when singing at full volume against an orchestral swell.

Her Act I aria, “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” (Yes, my friends call me Mimì), went without applause. The audience was no doubt spellbound, unable to move. Her poignant reprise of it on her deathbed, recalling happier times, was achingly magnificent.

Following Maestro’s lead.

Maestro Joseph Colaneri has a busy schedule, conducting two Italian operas at The Glimmerglass Festival, now through late August. His exquisite reading of the score suffered occasional balance problems in Act I, but were totally resolved from that point onward.

Take note, Franco Zeffirelli: The stage conversion between Acts I and II, from garret to Latin Quarter, must be the fastest on record. It takes less than 60 seconds and happens without dropping the curtain. (Call and compare notes with Director E. Loren Meeker.)

Tears assured—barring inner hollowness.

In Act III, Mimì overhears Rodolfo confide to Marcello: “I love Mimì more than anything in the world; but I’m afraid … I am afraid.” Michael Brandenburg again whispered these last words, and that lump came back. Is it because of remorse over some of the horrible things he has said to her? Or that he cheaply deflects his flaws upon her?

In other words, because he’s so human?

And in the final seconds of Act IV, his piercing cries of “Mimì!” and his sobbing … well, how can anyone witness that without one’s own tears falling too? Only if hollow, perhaps.

Other cast members.

In supporting and secondary roles, there are no duds:

  • Baritone Brian Vu as Schaunard has tremendous comedic timing, humorous athleticism—stooping to silliness and rising to swashbuckling derring-do—and a rich voice of smoky brandy. His is a talent to watch.
  • As Marcello, baritone Hunter Enoch acts quite the hothead while molten iron pours from his vocal smelter. He plays the men-are-clueless card to perfection.
  • “Vecchia zimarra, senti,” Colline’s bittersweet adieu to his faithful overcoat, is always a touching moment, and spun by Rhys Lloyd Talbot’s burnished bass-baritone makes one wish Puccini had composed more than one two-minute aria for Colline.
  • Splendid as Musetta, soprano Vanessa Becerra is practically show stopping.
  • Doubling the minor roles of landlord Benoit and foppish sugar daddy Alcindoro is veteran bass-baritone Dale Travis.

La bohème, by Giacomo Puccini, till August 27, at The Glimmerglass Festival.

Go see it. Be prepared for tears, in case you turn out to be human and of good sentiment.

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