A Triumphant Era Continues

Another summer opera season in Asbury Park, and yet another triumph for Madame Era M. Tognoli and all involved with the Metro Lyric Opera at the Paramount Theater! This past Saturday evening saw the last of three great operas performed in this, the opera company's 46th season. A large and enthusiastic crowd was treated to a magnificent performance of 'La Boheme', Giacomo Puccini's masterpiece of the verismo movement in Grand Opera. No longer was opera to be solely the province of unapproachable majesty shrouded in the mists and myths of bygone history. 'La Boheme' was written about starving artists in a drafty garret apartment in 19th century Paris. It was about real people on the verge of starvation, constantly dodging the landlord, and desperately trying to keep the stove's fragile fire and their own internal flames from being extinguished by a cruel winter and crueler fate. Mostly it is about love, everlasting and indomitable.
For 'La Boheme', as for the season's earlier operas, 'Madama Butterfly' and 'Le Nozze di Figaro', Madame Tognoli, the opera company's general and artistic director, assembled singers and musicians of most extraordinary talent. The ill-fated Mimi was sung by the beautiful Rosemary Musoleno, possessing an equally gorgeous soprano voice. Her aria, 'Mi chiamano Mimi', about longing for the spring, was deeply moving. The tenor Sung Choe Pac, as Rudolfo the poet, thrilled the audience with the magnificent aria 'Che gelida manina.' These two voices could individually grace any world-class opera stage, and when their voices melded perfectly in the duet that closes the first act, vocal nirvana had arrived in Asbury Park. Act One also introduces us to the superb voices of Rodolfo's fellow artists: Marcello the painter, the philosopher Colline, and the musician Schaunard. These roles were filled expertly, and all in splendid voice, by Stefano Koronos, Sam Smith, and Kenneth Overton. Their embodiment as the keepers of the garret's flame and their comic timing in dealing with their landlord nemesis, played so well by Stefano Szkafarausky, was a truly exemplary ensemble found only in the finest productions of 'La Boheme'.
Act Two introduced the beautiful and vivacious Jacqueline Thompson who embodied the flirtatious role of the coquette Musetta. Ms. Thompson's delightful interpretation of the famous aria, known as 'Musetta's Waltz', was another wonderful highlight and a great favorite with the audience. The adult and children's choruses surrounding the toy vendor played by Charles Wilder, all in splendid voice and costume, were simply delightful.
Much of the credit for the excellent pace and timing must go to the master conductor, Anton Coppola (uncle of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola). Mr. Coppola's baton led a thoroughly professional orchestra playing Puccini's glorious music, taking full advantage of the excellent acoustics of Asbury Park's 75-year-old Paramount Theater. The scenery and lighting were perfect for the theater, too. Add to all of these elements the splendid oceanside setting, and no other theater can boast of such a wonderful evening of opera.
It must be noted that Madame Era Tognoli graciously greeted the audience during the second intermission and asked the grateful assemblage for voluntary assistance in helping her continue her nearly half-century tradition of bringing great opera to Monmouth County. One can only marvel at how fortunate we are to have this remarkable woman in our midst. For the music and theater lovers of Asbury Park, Madame Tognoli has been a veritable treasure!

Frank D'Alessandro,
August 8, 2005
Ed. Note: I spoke with Madame Tognoli when placing my reservations for La Boheme and had the honor of meeting her after the performance. She is a very gracious woman, who shares Restore's concerns for the failing condition of our landmark buildings. Won't you please volunteer to help her keep this wonderful opera coming back to Asbury Park? We'll forward your emails to her.