CHARLESTON - Our opera's setting: bustling, romantic Paris. Two young people - a poet and a seamstress - are smitten with each other. Love blossoms. Heartache ensues.
This is Puccini's “La Boheme,” right?
The Parisian tale on display at the Spoleto Festival USA is Gustave Charpentier's “Louise.” Except for its hit number - a hymn to love that wells up from the title character after she runs off with her sweetheart - it's as neglected as “La Boheme” is familiar.
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Yes, the two are similar in locale and subject. But Charpentier actually is delivering something different. He puts his lovers, especially Louise, into a real world in which young people have to deal with their parents, and co-workers are dying to know what's going on after quitting time.
In Act 1, while Louise is still home with her parents, we see her father come home from work, her mother put supper on the table, and both of them pooh-pooh the young man chasing her. In Act 2, her co-workers wonder why she's so distracted, then delight in learning the answer when she sneaks away with Julien.
In the finale, she visits her parents after moving in with Julien. Her father pleads with her to stay, and tempers flare. She storms away. He roars in frustration. The curtain falls.
Maybe you've taken part in scenes like those in your own life.
Charpentier was French. But he generates a fire worthy of Italian opera when Louise and Julien savor their freedom and when Louise faces off against her father. There's a crowd scene of Parisian revelers that's as boisterous as the one in “La Boheme.”
The more intense the music becomes, the more the principals of “Louise” - especially Stefania Dovhan as Louise, Sergey Kunaev as Julien and Louis Otey as Louise's father - reveled Friday in letting their voices surge. But both the opera and the performers were weaker on the gentler side. The opera spends so much time on domestic coziness and early-morning Parisian atmosphere that it's slow to come alive. As the lovers, Dovhan and Kunaev aren't prone to throttle back their voices much in the name of tenderness.
But Sam Helfrich's staging bridges the world better - from Louise snuggling up next to dad to the Parisian revelers cutting up with choreography harking back to Busby Berkeley's movie extravaganzas. And the orchestra, led by Emanuel Villaume, had poetry and excitement. It made Paris a charismatic place.
‘Louise' The Spoleto Festival USA presents Gustave Charpentier's tale of young love in Paris. When: 7 p.m. Monday, next Sunday and June 6. Where: Gaillard Auditorium, Charleston. Details: 843-579-3100; www.spoletousa.org.