Could it be just a year ago this month that the Orange County Performing Artscenter was hosting the Greatest Show On Earth -- the Kirov Opera performing Wagner's "Ring"? Maybe it wasn't the greatest "Ring" on Earth, but it certainly was an ambitious project that helped launch what one hoped was an expansive new era for music near the shopping mall in Costa Mesa.
Well, we're back down on the ground this year, for the only operatic offering on tap at the "old" Segerstrom Hall this fall is Opera Pacific's workaday revival of Puccini's "La Boheme," which opened the company's season Wednesday night. Some might find this reassuring; life goes on as normal after the circus leaves town. Others will be checking the Web and going out of the area again for their operatic fix.
Wednesday was ensemble opera time at Segerstrom -- no voices that leaped out and grabbed you, no glaring weak spots. A strong case can be made that "Boheme," of all operas, ought to be performed this way, emphasizing the intimate one-for-all, all-for-one nature of this community of lovable starving artistes. But once you've heard great voices sing the hit arias, whether live or on recording, you get spoiled; you miss the chills and thrills.
So the Rodolfo, Arturo Chacon-Cruz -- who will also sing the role in yet another "Boheme" at Los Angeles Opera this fall -- could display only a decent, veiled middle-range and a piercing high register with little subtlety. As Mimi, Kelly Kaduce offered a "Mi chiamano Mimi" that was low-key, conversational, ordinary, although she did have some affecting pianissimo moments in Act 4. Megan Monaghan fluttered and vamped conventionally as Musetta, James Westman was a resonant Marcello, Andrew Gangestad's Colline tremulously bid farewell to his coat in Act 4. No chills here.
The production -- a hand-me-down from the New York City, Glimmerglass and Houston Grand operas -- attempted to whisk the opera forward in time to World War I, and it was not a pretty sight. Funeral corteges contributed to a growing stack of coffins beside a hulking locomotive in Act 3. The ugly, dirty, misshapen artists' garret indicated a life of grinding poverty for these Bohemians; not even their slapstick hijinks provided any visual relief. Given their chronic lack of funds, it was no surprise to see at least one of them (Lee Gregory's Schaunard) in uniform by Act 4 -- and when the boys staged their mock duel, it was in the form of simulated trench warfare.
With Opera Pacific artistic director John DeMain off leading William Bolcom's "A View From the Bridge" in D.C., the baton was passed to the veteran Edoardo Muller, whose tempos were mostly slow and stodgy, shoveling on sentimentality in Acts 3 and 4 that slammed against the unsparingly grim sets. The Opera Pacific Orchestra played well, though, and the Act 2 chorus was fine, except for a near-screeching climactic held note near the act's close.
Where: Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Artscenter, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Nov. 3
Price: $27 to $191
Contact: (800) 346-7372 or www.operapacific.org