By CB Adams

I shouldn’t admit this, but during the intermission at opening night of Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ production of “La Bohème,” I thought of Cher.

I should have been madly scribbling notes about all of the salient aspects of this Puccini classic, as all good reviewers should, but instead I was thinking of Cher’s performance as Loretta Castorini in the movie “Moonstruck.” Specifically, the scene when she’s discussing her experience having just attended “La Bohème.”

“I was surprised…” she says. “You know, I didn’t really think she was gonna die. I knew she was sick.”

The “she” is Mimi, and if Loretta had seen lyric soprano Katarina Burton’s performance, she might have realized that Mimi really was gonna die. That’s because Burton maintains a tightly controlled, authentic simplicity that draws attention to Mimi’s inner life and emotional journey. That journey is imbued with a subtle-but-persistent death-hauntedness – starting with a small, foreshadowing cough as she makes her entrance in the first act.

Moisés Salazar as Rodolfo and Katerina Burton as Mimì in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

The specter of death makes Burton’s performance of Mimi’s deterioration compelling, tragic and all the (tragically) sweeter, especially her love and tribulations with Rodolfo. I hesitate to write that line because I’ve become more than bit disillusioned with the whole dying heroine trope. You know, “Terms of Endearment,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Hope Floats,” “Beaches,” etc., etc.

It’s to Burton’s credit that I suspended my dislike for this narrative device. Her voice conveys the necessary subtle nuances and delivers Puccini’s demanding melodies with a beautiful legato and emotional depth. She is a convincing actress who genuinely portrays Mimi’s joy, love and eventual (inevitable) suffering.

That was enough to win me over to Team Mimi – as was her chemistry with Rodolfo. The dynamic of this duo in their duets and emotional scenes provides a satisfying balance in these interactions.

If Burton’s Mimi foreshadows her journey with a small cough, Moisés Salazar’s’ Rodolfo faces his journey’s climax with the catch of his throat when he realizes Mimi has died. Salazar’s performance provides many confident and fine moments, but it is at that catch of the throat that rang the truest, most human and genuine. It’s also the moment that makes clear his journey of loss is just beginning.

Salazar exhibits a powerful and expressive tenor voice that ably conveys lyrical tenderness, dramatic intensity and a palpable emotional connection and chemistry with Mimi, enhancing the romantic and tragic dimensions of their relationship. His acting abilities enlivened his Rodolfo’s youthful ardor and eventual despair​.

Brittney Renee achieves another bit of opera theater magic in the final act. In the first three, Renee delivers a Musetta who displays the requisite range of confident liveliness and flamboyance with a touch of naughtiness (Café Momus, anybody?). But it’s her act of kindness toward Mimi in fourth act that most humanizes the character. Renee’s compassion adds genuine depth to the role.

Thomas Glass as Marcello, Titus Muzi III as Schaunard, Moisés Salazar as Rodolfo, and André Courville as Collins in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

Great chemistry is a hallmark of this cast, especially among the Bohemians – Thomas Glass as Marcello, André Courville as the philosopher, Collins, and Titus Muzi III as Schaunard. Collectively and individually, their vocal abilities combined with seamless ensemble singing, maintains harmonic unity, but it is in their camaraderie and musical interplay provides the necessary chemistry to drive much of the opera’s emotional and narrative depth​.

Proof that there are no small roles in theater is found in the minor character Parpignol, the toymaker and vendor who makes his one and only appearance in Act II. Levi Adkins inhabits the character who contributes to the effervescence of the abundant, bustling Christmas Eve scene.

Most memorable is his Napoleonic hat, red and white jacquard pantaloons and backpack drum, thanks to the efforts of costume designer Amanda Seymour as well as wig and makeup designers Krystal Balleza and Will Vicari.

Another memorable costume is notable for a very different reason. It’s Mimi’s periwinkle blue coat and purse in Act II. As Mimi opens her heart to Marcello outdoors, they interact in the cold outdoors. The way Burton clings to that handbag while standing in a coat that is too light for such cold, reveals volumes about the uncomfortable state of her character.

It’s moments like this when the collective efforts of the cast, director Michael Shell, set design (Takeshi Kata) and lighting design (Marcus Doshi) align to elevate a small moment.

Moisés Salazar as Rodolfo and Thomas Glass as Marcello in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

The members of members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra consistently provide terrific performances for OTSL performances – so much so that it’s easy to forget how important the music is. For “La Bohème,” the musicians, under the direction of José Luis Gómez, exquisitely convey the depth of characters’ sentiments and enhance the immersion in the poignant narrative.

As a member of the “chestnuts club,” opera’s “La Bohème” is like ballet’s “The Nutcracker” and can be counted on to put cheeks in seats. The regular appearance of a “La Bohème” of this quality should be celebrated because the opera stands up well to repeated viewings (and listenings) and is a good “gateway” to the artform. It’s like pressing replay, pulling on a favorite sweater or meeting a friend for lunch.

And, to invoke Cher once more, it makes me believe yet again  “…in life after love..”

“La Bohème” is part of Opera Theatre of St. Louis 2024 repertory season continuing through June 30 at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For tickets or more information visit

Brittany Renee as Musetta and Thomas Glass as Marcello in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

Cover photo: Brittany Renee as Musetta in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

By CB Adams

Waiting for Winter Opera’s production of “Don Giovanni,” I was reminded of the forward to Milton Cross’ “Complete Stories of the Great Operas,” in which he begins, “This is a book of stories – the stories of the great and enduring operas…Some of them have become so familiar that I return to them each year, almost as one returns each season to the Christmas story.” Just a week or so before Thanksgiving and the holiday season, Winter Opera’s timing for a production of “Don Giovanni” seemed perfect for a return – Christmas-like – to one of opera’s (and Mozart’s) great and (and greatly rendered) stories.

Before the opening notes of the overture, it was clear that this production would hew closely to a traditional interpretation (kudos to stage director John Stephens) of this work with an understated, yet architecturally appropriate, set (kudos to Scott Loebl, scenic designer). There were the requisite Corinthian columns, graceful arches and stone fountain – providing the neutral setting for the intricate, sublime story to follow.

As the orchestra began the overture to the three-hour performance to come (under the confident and sure baton of conductor Scott Schoonover), I was reminded of how these early, foreboding chords – repeated in the last act – symbolize the fate that awaits Don Giovanni.

Photo by ProPhotoSTL

I was reminded, too, of that Mozart’s original title was “Il Dissoluto Punito, Ossia il Don Giovanni” (“The Rake Punished, or Don Giovanni”). From the opening, this production faithfully unfurls the looping story of Don Giovanni as well as explores the dynamics of power, control and fate – with its major events presented at the beginning and searing conclusion. 

The dynamic, muscular-voiced Robert Mellon was a winning Leporello, the Don’s youthful, sometimes blustery servant. Mellon brought his character’s famous register aria – “Madamino, il catalogo è questo” – confidently and humorously to life.

One of the strengths of Winter Opera’s production is its treatment of women in the story. Gina Galati’s portrayal of Donna Elvira was exceptional, especially her affecting, poignant phrasing in “Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata.”

Raphaella Medina provided a sweet-voiced and beguiling Zerlina, especially during “Batti, batti o bel Masetto,” a love song-aria (with Mark Hosseini as Masetto) beloved for its teasing trills. Medina also paired very well with the strong performance of Jacob Lassetter as Don Giovanni, for a hugely satisfying performance of the duet “La si darem la mano.” Throughout, Lassette’s portrayal demonstrated tremendous range as well as nuance demanded by Mozart’s composition.  

Nathan Whitson’s strong bass more than met the imposing demands of the character Commendatore. His performance was equal parts stentorian, imperious and stone-like (as the singing statue).

The singers were well-adorned, thanks to the costume design by Jen Blum-Tatara and wigs/makeup by Jessica Dana.

Winter Opera’s “Don Giovanni” played at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center on November 17 and 19. The season continues with Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” January 19 and 21, 2024. More information is available at the Winter Opera website.

PhotoProSTL photo

By CB Adams

There’s a moment in the “classic” 1989 movie “Fletch Lives” when Chevy Chase as Fletch says it takes a big man to admit when he is wrong. To which he adds, “I am NOT a big man.” It takes the comedic instincts and delivery of Chase to get laughs from that line, and it takes baritone Robert Mellon as the title character in Union Avenue Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff” to elicit that reaction for 2 ½ hours of witty, plus-sized, boozy merriment.

Mellon has big shoes to fill as Falstaff, a beloved barfly who appears in four plays by William Shakespeare (if you count the one in which he is eulogized). Plumped up in a hunchbacked fat suit, Mellon fills his Falstaff as a big man (literally) who gets big laughs while working his wiles with the merry wives of Windsor and their various and sundry significant others. As one of the “holy trinity” of comic operas, “Falstaff” may reside with the likes of “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Master-Singers of Nuremberg,” but it’s Mellon and the rest of the cast who make this production flat-out fun.

Union Avenue Opera’s production of Falstaff on July 27, 2022.

This may be Falstaff’s show, but he, like Mellon, needs comedic foils who provide equal helpings of wit and charm, and this production has them. “Falstaff” is a concentrated opera without long arias, but with melodies that practically fly by. That’s well-suited to the talents of Marc Schapman and Mark Freiman as Falstaff’s scheming henchmen, Bardolfo and Pistola, respectively, who bounce off each other amusingly. As does Anthony Heinemann as Dr. Caius and Jacob Lassetter as Ford.

Also up to Falstaff’s formidable foibles is the trifecta of Karen Kanakis, who sings Mrs. Alice Ford, Melody Wilson as Mrs. Meg Page and Janara Kellerman as Dame Mistress Quickly. This triumvirate were delightful – individually and collectively – as they work to counter Falstaff’s schemes with a refreshing equality of the sexes. A subplot involves the young lovers, Nannetta and Fenton, and their best scene concludes Act I. As sung by soprano Brooklyn Snow and tenor Jesse Darden, it’s one of the opera’s best moments.   

Under the baton of conductor Stephen Hargreaves, the music of Verdi’s final opera and only second comedy is frothy, splendid and connects deeply with the performers. Teresa Doggett’s costumes were not only tailored for the overall period of the opera, they also elevated the visual presence of each character.

The stage at Union Avenue Christian Church poses certain creative challenges, but its modest size is well-suited to this opera. Scenic designer Lex Van Blommestein makes maximum use of the stage by going “old school” and using cloth panels to set the scenes, including Falstaff’s favorite haunt, the Garter Inn. Under the direction of stage manager Megan-Marie Cahill, the crew openly raise and lower the panels, replete with squeaky pulleys. As the crew elevated the panels for the final act (during the July 30th  performance), set in a forest, they created the impressive spread of a massive oak tree. It’s not often that a scene change elicits ooo’s, ahh’s and applause.  

Union Avenue Opera’s production of Falstaff on July 27, 2022.

So, loosen your belt – or sash or waistline – and prepare to be served an effervescent treat ala Verdi, Shakespeare and Union Avenue Opera.

Union Avenue Opera Union presents “Falstaff” July 29 and 30 and August 5, 6 at 8 p.m. at Union Avenue Christian Church. For more information, visit

Union Avenue Opera’s production of Falstaff on July 27, 2022.

This July, Union Avenue Opera (UAO) will make its return to presenting live, in-person opera following a summer of cancellations due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. For the 2021Season, UAO will move its performances to The Big Top, in St Louis’ Grand Center district, for three exciting, socially distanced performances of both Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann and Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia.

“I am beyond thrilled that we have found a way to safely bring opera back to the city of St. Louis this summer. It is an incredible opportunity for us to be creative and offer audiences something different for this one unique season,” said UAO founding Artistic Director and conductor Scott Schoonover.

This summer, audiences will have the opportunity to see two classic, beloved operas in one week – even on the same day, as UAO will offer two matinee performances for the first time in eight years.

“The operas will unfold, acted in front of our wonderful orchestra on The Big Top stage with costumes and lights, to delight socially distanced crowds in the large open-air tent. I can’t wait to see our patrons again and hope that new audience members will come out as well, in support of this effort to put St. Louis artists, orchestra members and technicians back to work after this difficult year,” said Schoonover.

Operated by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, The Big Top is Missouri ArtSafe Certified and will employ rigorous COVID-19 mitigation policies for the benefit of all guests, staff, and artists in its 1,200-person tent which will have reduced capacity for 2021. The Big Top will also employ a contact-less ticketing and concession experience for opera goers and masks will be required.

“I know those who attend will be moved in a special way by hearing live singing and orchestra again, and by seeing wonderful portrayals of these complex and sometimes hilarious characters in person. It certainly gives us all something which we can look forward to in the upcoming months. Finally, I would like to assure our loyal supporters that UAO fully intends to be back in its home venue next season with a full, 3-opera lineup.”

Single tickets range from $25 to $55 and will be available exclusively through MetroTix beginning June 1, for members of the public. All tickets must be purchased in advance either online at or by calling 314-534-1111 or 800-293-5949. UAO will utilize tiered on-sale dates for past subscribers and donors prior to the public on-sale date – more information regarding tiered ticket on-sale dates can be found online at

Brooklyn Snow

Three Performances: July 21 and 24 at 7:30PM and July 23 at 2:00PM
Presented in French with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Scott Schoonover
Staging by Mark Freiman

Offenbach’s grand French opera follows the poet Hoffmann as he searches for true love in a magical tale
of thwarted love, art, and revenge! Best known for the Barcarolle “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour,” “Chanson
de Kleinzach,” and the ultimate showcase of coloratura soprano singing, Olympia’s “Doll aria.” Les
contes d’Hoffmann is a haunting tale of one man’s desire for the perfect woman. Hounded by his other-worldly nemesis and accompanied by Nicklausse, his ever-faithful friend, Hoffmann seems forever unlucky in love. Darkly playful and set against fantastical backdrops and stirring chorus formations, the opera renders the story of Hoffmann’s descent into madness and intoxication in faithful detail

Under the baton of Artistic Director Scott Schoonover, lyric tenor William Davenport will make his UAO debut in the title role. Soprano Brooklyn Snow, who received high praise for her portrayal of Cunegonde in 2019’s Candide returns to sing the three heroines as Jeremiah Sanders makes his UAO debut as the opera’s four villains. Anthony Webb (Enoch Snow, Carousel) returns to sing the roles of the four servants and Emma Sorenson (Hänsel, Hänsel und Gretel) as Hoffmann’s faithful companion, Nicklausse.

Hoffmann – William Davenport*
Lindorf / Coppélius / Dappertutto / Dr. Miracle – Jeremiah Sanders*
Andrès / Spalanzani / Pittichinaccio / Frantz – Anthony Webb
Olympia / Giulietta / Antonia – Brooklyn Snow
Nicklausse – Emma Sorenson
Luther / Crespel – Joel Rogier
Hermann / Schlemil – Randell McGee
Nathanael / Cochenille – Anthony Heinemann
Voice of Antonia’s Mother – Liya Khaimova

Three Performances: July 22 and 23 at 7:30PM and July 24 at 2:00PM
Presented in Italian with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Stephen Hargreaves
Staged by Jon Truitt

Figaro! Figaro! Figaro! Only the clever barber Figaro can help the fair Rosina outwit her guardian, the aging Dr. Bartolo and live out her days in the arms of her true love, Count Almaviva. A grand plan is hatched, full of mischievous escapades and inventive antics sure to delight audiences of all ages. This Rossini Italian classic features one of the most well-known pieces of music in history, Figaro’s “Largo al factotum” along with Rosina’s dazzling “Una voce poco fa.” Full of laughter and beautiful music, see why Il barbiere di Siviglia has been an audience favorite for more than two centuries.

No stranger to his role, Pedro Barbosa will make his UAO debut as Conte d’ Almaviva as Robert Mellon makes his UAO and role debut as the barber Figaro, and Janara Kellerman (Mrs. Herring, Albert Herring) makes her role debut as Rosina. Also returning are Andy Papas (Ko-Ko, H.M.S. Pinafore) as Dr. Bartolo, Erin Haupt (Hebe, H.M.S. Pinafore) as Berta, Isaiah Musik-Ayala (Colline, La bohème) as Basilio, as Stephen Hargreaves (Nabucco) conducts.

Conte d’ Almaviva – Pedro Barbosa*
Figaro – Robert Mellon*
Rosina – Janara Kellerman
Dr. Bartolo – Andy Papas
Basilio – Isaiah Musik-Ayala
Berta – Erin Haupt
Fiorello – Ben Worley

In anticipation of its season, UAO will bring classic opera front and center in its 2021 Opera in the Garden – Garden Concert Series this spring featuring thrilling operatic performances. Launched in 2018, as a House Concert Series, UAO moved the concerts outdoor last fall for the safety of its artists and patrons and were some of the first, live, operatic performances held in St. Louis during the pandemic.

Sunday, May 16 at 6:00PM
Our series starts in the Ladue garden of Margaret Gilleo and Charles Guenther with performances by UAO artists Leann Schuering, Anthony Heinemann, and Randell McGee with Nancy Mayo on piano. The concert will feature operatic favorites including “Je veux vivre” Roméo et Juliette, “Kuda, kuda” Eugene Onegin, “Caro nome” Rigoletto, “Cosa sento!” Trio from Le nozze di Figaro, “Refrain, audacious tar” – Duet from H.M.S. Pinafore.

Saturday, June 5 at 7:00PM
Join us as we return to the Compton Heights garden of Dr. Kenneth and Marjorie Smith and welcome back Metropolitan Opera soprano Mary Dunleavy for a special Saturday night concert. Ms. Dunleavy will present a selection of arias from opera’s favorite courtesans (such as Violetta, Manon, Madama Butterfly) as well as art songs by American composer Amy Beach with pianist Gail Hintz.

Sunday, June 27 at 6:00PM
We conclude our series in the in Webster Groves garden of Jack and Mary LaBarge as we introduce our very own Figaro, Robert Mellon alongside 2021 season artists Erin Haupt and Liya Khaimova with Nancy Mayo on piano. Concert highlights include “Largo al factotum” Il barbiere di Siviglia, “Elle a fui, la tourterelle” Les Contes d’Hoffmann, “Che faro senza Euridice” Orfeo, “Evening Prayer” duet from Hansel
and Gretel, and “Soave il vento” trio from Così fan tutte.

Tickets are $50 for individuals or $100 for Patron Seating which includes the best reserved seats and a $50 tax-deductible donation to UAO. Tickets are on sale now at and must be ordered in advance (no door sales)

About Union Avenue Opera – UAO was founded in 1994 to bring affordable, professional, originallanguage opera to St. Louis, a mission the company continues to pursue to this day. UAO is committed to hiring the most talented artists, directors, designers and technicians both locally and from across the United States. UAO provides promising singers the first steppingstone of their professional career. The
company celebrated its 25th Anniversary Season in 2019 and offers vibrant and affordable opera experiences in original languages to audiences who reflect the breadth and diversity of the St. Louis region. UAO is a publicly supported 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered in Missouri. In 2018 UAO became an OPERA American Professional Company Member. OPERA America is the national
membership organization for artists, administrators and audiences, dedicated to support the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera.

Financial assistance has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, and with support
from the Regional Arts Commission, and funded in part by the Arts and Education Council.