October 27, 2018
If I hadn’t misplaced my Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, I could probably tell you who said, “When in the presence of beauty, it is good to be alive.” I doubt I got it quite right, but even so it’s how I felt after the first act of La boheme Friday night at the Stevens Center. If the panes in the windows of the Paris garret set filling the Stevens Center’s stage had been real glass, they would have shattered when Mimi (Yulia Lysenko) and Rodolfo (Adam Diegel) sang their first duet together. The purity and power of their voices together reinforces my hope that the Piedmont Opera can, because of its reputation and the services it provides the performers, continue to attract the world-class singers that could make Winston-Salem a truly national destination for opera.
Not only were the performers and the chorus nothing short of wonderful, the direction of Steven LaCosse and the musical direction of Jamie Allbritten were nothing short of inspired. If that sounds a bit over the top, it isn’t just the opinion of my untutored senses. It’s what I heard from those around me and especially when stuck in the line of attendees leaving the theater after the show, when I was privy to many exclamations on the quality of the performance by folks who I know know more than I do. (By the way, kudos to Vicky and Phil Auchincloss for hosting a late-evening banquet for the cast in their spacious apartment. We call her the Pearl Mesta of the Fifth Floor.)
For me, in the case of this rendition of La boheme, an opera I have seen several times, the chorus played a significant role under the direction of LaCosse, but it was the dancing duel between the occupants of the garret that provided most of the laughs. Sometimes, such occasions in opera can feel forced to me. Friday night’s was full of fun. The performers became instant actors as they dueled with a baguette and herring. Puccini must have had a pretty good sense of humor because there are actually several scenes played for laughs in the opera and LaCosse/Allbritten made the most of them.
Back to the Performance Center that could make Winston-Salem a must-go-to cultural destination. We have a firm foundation and we’re already a destination because hotels going up everywhere. We’ve got excellent restaurants. Several great museums. A village with a storied past. Vital universities, one that is dedicated to creating the next generation of performing artists. So on and so forth. It all makes Winston-Salem a, if not the, leading cultural center of North Carolina that could draw consistently from two hundred miles north and west of the city. What it doesn’t have is a single venue where something is going on all the time that would reassure folks who are thinking of visiting that, well, something is going on all the time in a single venue so they don’t have to plan that far ahead to take advantage of the cultural attractions of the city. That makes for another destination. I’ve researched the pros and cons of having a multi-venue Performing Arts Center. Building one must take into consideration cost and competition and rely on commitment and community, and they generally work best in large urban centers. So it’s a challenge. But so was bringing Winston-Salem back from the brink of slipping into the economic doldrums because of the loss of industry and business.
For now, get tickets for Sunday’s matinee or Tuesday’s Final Performance of La boheme and tell me I’m right.
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