There are two ways that the tragedy of Puccini's "La Boheme" can play out: Dramatically over-the-top with the heroine Mimi breaking out into raging coughing fits; or subtle and quiet, with a death scene that comes at you out of nowhere even when you know it's coming.
Evans tosses in just enough drama to let us know what's coming, but then has Mimi die quietly, almost unexpectedly so that the audience feels a little betrayed by any hope that they had of her miraculous recovery.
At Saturday night's performance, Corinne Winters' Mimi, wracked with tuberculosis, fades off quietly moments after she has reassured her lover Rodolpho (Winters' real life beau Zach Borichevsky) and his bohemian friends that she is feeling better.
Winters and Borichevsky, not surprisingly, struck a convincing pose as lovers holding out hope that Mimi's tuberculosis would disappear when the winter cold gave way to springtime blossoms. Winters, a rising star with a pair of Metropolitan Opera credits on her resume and appearances with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, National Symphony Orchestra and Santa Fe Opera, has the vocal chops that raises the hair on your arms. Her voice is disarming and warm, with a strength beneath the surface that pops up and steals your breath.
Andrea Shokery was equally impressive in the role as the fiercely independent Musetta, her debut with Arizona Opera as a member of the 2013-14 Marion Roose Pullin Studio Artists. If this was her debut, it's going to be exciting to see her encore as Annina in the March production of Verdi's "La Traviata" and watch her grow as an artist during her tenure.
Shokery is an exciting vocalist who was able to project a rich soprano over the orchestra and deep into the audience that filled two-thirds of Music Hall Saturday night.
The orchestra, under the baton of Joel Revzen, tended to play a little loud at times, which wreaked havoc on baritone Daniel Teadt (Marcello). He had a hard time projecting and oftentimes his rich baritone got lost in the powerful vocal performance of tenor Borichevsky and bass-baritone Calvin Griffin, another member of the opera's artists residence program.
The sizable chorus performing in the Second Act was top notch, especially the young children in the town square scene clamoring around a puppeteer.
Winters and Borichevsky are set to return to Arizona Opera next season — it will be their third in a row after doing Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" last season. They are cast in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," which will be part of the 2015 Tucson Desert Song Festival.
The 2014-15 season opens in October with the first-ever mariachi opera "Cruzar la Cara de la Luna" by Jose "Pepe" Martinez and Leonard Foglia.