Not long ago, a young man from Mansfield, Ohio, came to see me. Joel Vega is a tenor, husband, father and entrepreneur. He had heard that I've been around the opera and arts management business over the years—a good way to die broke.
Vega was trying to start an opera company in his hometown, and he asked for my advice.
I told him to go to law school. I told him to get a job. I told him to hope his son joined a hedge fund or married money to keep his parents in their old age. I did not tell him to go out and start an opera company.
He did it anyway. Meet Mid-Ohio Opera.
Yesterday, I made the 90-minute drive from Clintonville to Wooster, Ohio—am I a good guy, or what?—to experience Mid-Ohio Opera's production of Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. Performances continue this Thursday and Friday in Mansfield.
I know my way around La Boheme. I heard Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni sing La Boheme, conducted by Carlos Kleiber, no less. My Mimis and Rodolfos include Renata Tebaldi and Richard Tucker (I'm old). I grew up on Toscanini's 1946 broadcast of La Boheme, the 50th anniversary performances of the opera's premiere, also conducted by Toscanini.
Yesterday's concert performance with piano accompaniment in Wooster was not in that league.
It was, however, beautifully sung and well acted by a gifted young cast. But the acoustics of the gorgeous Wooster First Presbyterian Church swallowed a lot of the text—no fault of the singers. Balance was a problem, too.
OK, enough carping. I was pleased to hear several fine singers who either live in or studied in Central Ohio: Brian Hupp (Marcello), Jeff MacMullen (Schaunard) and Heidi Kirschenheiter Vega (Musetta). John Kaneklides fell in love convincingly as Rodolfo, approached the top notes in Che gelida manina with no fear and proved his fine musicianship by leaving out the unwritten high C at the end of Act 1. ("Tradition ist schlamperei!")
I especially liked Andrew W. Potter's beautiful bass voice. And what was not to love from the pearly and stunning Mimi sung by Stephanie Clark Marx?
It was clear that conductor Paul Chandley and the fine one-person orchestra, pianist Sophia Pavlenko Chandley, know their way around La Boheme even better than I do.
Despite my advice to seek a more lucrative career path, Vega has formed a very good opera company. And over the weekend, his colleagues brought honor to the world's favorite opera.
Take note, Mansfield and environs: Mid-Ohio Opera delivers. It's an endeavor well worth supporting.