In November 2008, as the Great Recession pounded away, Opera Pacific closed its doors. Orange County was suddenly without a major resident opera company. But after nearly four years of drought, the Pacific Symphony is trying to step into the breach with concert opera over three years, one per season. It’s a small step, but it’s a step.
They aren’t taking any chances with repertoire, that’s for sure.
First out of the chute was that guaranteed crowd-pleaser, Puccini’s “La Bohème” -- and yes, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall looked almost full on the ground floor Thursday night. There was some playful outreach in the lobby: an amusing multiple-choice quiz, “Which Bohemian Are You?”; trading cards of the four lead characters with descriptions that read like horoscopes.
Next year, it’s “Tosca;” the third opera not yet determined. Small steps.
As so often happens, this “Bohème” fielded a young ensemble cast with energetic, knock-'em-dead-in-the-balcony voices in which subtlety was at a premium (the best voice of the lot was bass-baritone Denis Sedov’s sonorous Colline).
In a gesture of continuity, the stage director, A. Scott Parry, just happened to be the director of Opera Pacific’s final production, “The Barber Of Seville” — and he encouraged the cast to engage in the usual physical horseplay amid a sparse collection of props spread in front of the orchestra.
Yet it was clear from the first notes that the real star of this performance was the Pacific Symphony, with European-opera-house-seasoned Carl St.Clair providing on-the-dot pacing. With reportedly short rehearsal, the orchestra played beautifully, illuminating aspects of Puccini’s orchestrations that are so often obscured in the pit. And the Pacific Chorale’s and Southern California Children’s Chorus’ singing was at such a high level that you almost didn’t miss the color and clamor of a fully-staged Act II.
“La Boheme” with Carl St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony; Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; 8 p.m. Saturday and Tuesday; $25-$185; (714) 556-2787 or https://www.pacificsymphony.org