Review: UK Opera’s La Boheme

Gregory Turay as Rodolfo and Catherine Clarke Nardolillo as Mimi in the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre's production of "La Boheme." Photos by Tim Collins for UK Opera Theatre.

Gregory Turay as Rodolfo and Catherine Clarke Nardolillo as Mimi in the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre's production of "La Boheme." Photos by Tim Collins for UK Opera Theatre.

Over the last decade, the University of Kentucky Opera program has been lucky to count Gregory Turay among its alums.

He’s the one who fulfilled the dream of winning at the national level of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, making it into the young artist program and embarking on an international career that we could sometimes tune in on TV or radio. And he occasionally came back for a recital or even a role, as he did in 2006 when appeared as Alfredo in a benefit performance of La Traviata.

UK and Lexington area opera fans are even luckier to have Turay as an artist-in-residence, leading a full UK Opera production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme as part of the Alltech Fortnight Festival in conjunction with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The Richard Kagey sets and 1920s vibe will be familiar to local opera fans who saw this production in 2008,  but the faces are different as many of that productions’ stars have moved on.

Clearly, with many of its artistic leaders involved in numerous activities related to the World Equestrian Games – including UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey heading up the opening and closing ceremonies – the program decided its best contribution to the cultural element of the Games was to revive a recent success.

Nicholas Provenzale, Reginald Smith Jr., Mitchell Hutchings, Julie LaDouceur, Gregory Turay and Catherine Clarke Nardoilillo in Act II of "La Boheme."Nicholas Provenzale, Reginald Smith Jr., Mitchell Hutchings, Julie LaDouceur, Gregory Turay and Catherine Clarke Nardoilillo in Act II of "La Boheme."

Nicholas Provenzale, Reginald Smith Jr., Mitchell Hutchings, Julie LaDouceur, Gregory Turay and Catherine Clarke Nardoilillo in Act II of "La Boheme."

And Boheme provides a nice showcase for several of the program’s most talented students, particularly Reginald Smith Jr. as Colline and Nicholas Provenzale as Schaunard, a really nice progression for him from Eisenstein in last spring’s production of Die Fledermaus. We’re also introduced to new UK doctoral candidate Mitchell Hutchings as Marcello, and he fits right in with the program that puts a heavy emphasis on acting in its operas.

Rent, the Broadway musical inspired by Boheme, really put the emphasis on this being a story about a circle of friends. The opera is and always will be more focused on the leading couple of Rodolfo and Mimi, but in their performances, you get the idea that this is a group dedicated to helping see each other through their poverty – albeit, as in most Boheme productions, a pretty good-looking version of poverty.

But this is about Rodolfo and Mimi, and with Turay as the leading man and Catherine Clarke Nardolillo opposite him, this is about as professional-feeling a production as UK Opera has offered up.

Turay would be beautifully cast in anyone’s Boheme as Rodolfo, a good-looking guy who leads with his heart. And with an easy command of the music, we get all of that in this performance. And while Narolillo, who was a terrific Musetta in 2008, is a doctoral candidate at UK, she has a long-professional resume and is evenly cast opposite Turay – even bringing a little Musetta sexiness to Mimi, which is usually a fairly demure role. She seduces the audience with an extremely well rounded lower register and a voice that easily takes flight in arias such as act Sì, mi chiamano Mimì.

Of course, though UK Opera is Lexington’s de facto opera company, it is still a student group and the students need the performance opportunities.

But ever so often, it is nice to put a professional like Turay on stage to show current students and Central Kentucky opera audiences what is possible.

Note: This production is double cast, and Friday (Oct. 1) and Sunday (Oct. 3) evening’s performances will be led by doctoral candidate Manuel Castillo as Rodolfo and undergraduate Mary-Hollis Hundley as Mimi. The opening night cast, reviewed here, will appear again Sunday afternoon. If you see the other cast, please comment and let us know what you thought.

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