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Soprano Anya Matanovic, left, and tenor Dominick Chenes, as Mimì and Rodolfo, appear in a publicity photo for Opera Colorado's production of "La Bohème," which runs through Nov. 15.
Kelly Maxwell, Courtesy Opera Colorado
Soprano Anya Matanovic, left, and tenor Dominick Chenes, as Mimì and Rodolfo, appear in a publicity photo for Opera Colorado’s production of “La Bohème,” which runs through Nov. 15.

By Kelly Dean Hansen, The Daily Camera

Because Giacomo Puccini wrote very little besides operatic works, his mastery of orchestration is often overlooked, yet his great gift for recognizing exactly which tone colors are best to illustrate dramatic situations — and to dress up his incomparable melodies — is a major factor in making immortal masterpieces of his greatest operas.

Puccini’s “La Bohème” — which is both his most beloved work and easily one of the most popular in the repertoire — opened Opera Colorado’s 2017-18 season Saturday night at Denver’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Despite the considerable dramatic intensity, effective comedy and beautiful singing happening onstage during the production, it is music director Ari Pelto’s breathtaking wizardry in the pit that most distinguishes this staging of “Bohème.”

Pelto’s incredible gift for interpreting operatic scores and for getting the most out of his orchestra was one of the reasons Opera Colorado named him to the post in 2015. On Saturday, his focus never wavered. Not only did he place Puccini’s orchestral mastery on full display, he also demonstrated incredible focus, always making his intentions clear to the singers. And each of the opera’s four acts came across as the contrasting staged tone poems that they are.

The six principal singers form a cohesive ensemble, and director Matthew Ozawa has helped them work together as a unit, whether it is just a pair of them onstage or the whole group. Four of them are making their Opera Colorado debut, including the two primary leads. Soprano Anya Matanovic is the standout as the doomed seamstress, Mimì. Her Act I aria soars to radiant heights, and her death scene at the end is as believable as possible, with just the right vocal inflections as Mimì fades away.

Tenor Dominick Chenes is sympathetic and sincere in his portrayal of the poet Rodolfo (the central figure of the four “Bohemian” artists). While he sings with great beauty, his interpretive decisions are also impeccable. Chenes is to be commended for singing the notes Puccini actually wrote at the end of Act I — forming a heart-melting harmony with Matanovic — rather than following the unfortunate tradition of going up with her in unison to a high C (something that is not in the score and which Puccini never sanctioned). We have already heard the high C at the climax of his aria and there is just no need to hear it again.

Read the full story at DailyCamera.com.

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