It shouldn't work. Not anymore. Not in the 21st century. That time-worn plot, the one-dimensional characters, the unabashed sentiment. But Florida Grand Opera's production of "La bohème" underscores how Puccini's masterpiece remains a moving, even relatable experience after more than a century of familiarity, lampoons and Broadway adaptations.
The soaring declarations of undying adoration at first sight followed by the heroine dying in a frigid artist's garret — all this ought to be laughable. But the achievement of the FGO team led by music director Ramon Tebar and stage director David Gately is to distill and deliver the pure emotional truth that makes "La bohème" transcendentally universal. When Ailyn Pérez's Mimi and Arturo Chacon-Cruz's Rodolfo pledge their love, it feels as real — perhaps more real — than the most deftly manipulative tearjerker on screen.
Doubtless, musicologists and opera buffs can find fault somewhere in this 4,716th production of what may be the world's most-popular opera, but lay audiences allowing themselves to luxuriate in the lush, affecting melodies will be hard put to spot them. In fact, many people working on this straight-ahead traditional production have been connected to previous "La bohèmes" — in some cases, several times. The result is not a company that takes it for granted, but instead a troupe so comfortable with the material that it inhabits it like a favorite pair of jeans.
The principal singers are technically unassailable, but the authenticity of their passion is remarkable, especially Pérez and Chacon-Cruz in the first-act arias in which they introduce themselves. Pérez displays a sweet soprano that intentionally quavers without seeming affected. Chacon-Cruz unleashes a strong tenor that is never cloying and shot through with a joie de vivre. The strapping baritone Mark Walters provides a nice counterpoint with his garret-mate Marcello, and Brittany Ann Reneé Robinson steals the stage with her saucy "companion" in the beguiling "Musetta's Waltz" but is convincingly altruistic in the final act.
Tebar, now in his second season, leads the orchestra in bringing out the kaleidoscope of colors and changing tempi in which the score revels. Gately expertly moves his cast around the stage, especially the multitudes in the street scene, when you think you've stepped back in time. Then, he freezes the assemblage in midgesture for the chorus' curtain call, echoing a painting you'd see in a museum. The director also maximizes the humor that Puccini and his librettists encourage with plenty of visual comedy, especially during the Bohemians' horseplay.
While the FGO's new general director, Susan T. Danis, has pledged a more-challenging next season, this warhorse needs no excuse. When the two simpatico souls overflow with rapture, the audience needs no supertitle to know why this work has endured.
"La bohème" will play 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., in Miami; and 7 p.m. Dec. 6 and 8 p.m. Dec. 8 at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $21-$200. Call 800-741-1010 or go to FGO.org.