NARROWSBURG, NY — Puccini's "La Boheme" is opera at its best: emotional, engaging and believable. Set in Paris in the 1830s, it follows the story of the poet Rodolfo, who falls in love with his garret neighbor, Mimi, on Christmas Eve; they romance, then have a painful falling out until, several months later, she dies of consumption. Another couple, the painter Marcello and his old flame, Musetta, renew their love affair on Christmas Eve in the Latin Quarter, soon quarrel, and then the couples part with "Our time for parting is when the roses bloom." It is Musetta who brings Mimi home to the garret for the climactic finale, with Rodolfo invoking "Mimi" in one of the most moving scenes in opera.

Delaware Valley Opera is presenting a beautifully sung and acted revival of this classic in the intimate Tusten Theatre in Narrowsburg under the experienced direction of Kim Eschenberg. The eight-piece orchestra, led by Jim Blanton, accompanies the singers with balanced restraint and intones the overtures with gusto. The set designed by Greg Bryan for the garret is suitably cluttered with old furniture while the costumes reflect the bohemian style of the characters.

Of course, it is the people who make this opera so popular and appealing, and cast members capture their characters with their excellent singing and acting.

Soprano Julie Ziavras fits the role of Mimi like one of the embroidered flowers Mimi fashions for a living. Her expressive voice and face spell out the pathos and beauty of the dying heroine from the first "Yes, I'm known as Mimi" to her final testament of love. She is especially strong on the high notes of the melodic theme identified with her and in the conflicting emotions of her "Farewell."

As her lover Rodolfo, Erik Sparks makes his presence felt in his introductory aria to Mimi, confessing, "Your little hand is cold," with genuine feeling. His tenor ranges from affection to scorn as he declares, "Mimi is a flirt," while attempting to reconcile his sense of guilt with his responsibility. The duets between the lovers are sung with dramatic verve and virtuosity.

Baritone Mark Gargiulo brings authority and skill to the role of Marcello, ranging from deep warmth in his friendship with the lovers to conflicting devotion and contempt for his beloved Musetta. Jeanne-Marie Lowell as Musetta sounds suitably coquettish as she describes how men stop in the streets to stare at her and as she mocks Marcello for abandoning her. Gustavo Morales adds splashes of humor as the musician Schaunard as he bustles about the garret, while Eric Barsness plays the philosopher Colline as the advocate of reason among his romantic comrades. He turns his aria on pawning his overcoat to get medicine for Mimi into a moment of true regret.

Kevin Pinkel as Parpignol inspires a lovely chorale sung by the Youth Ensemble, while the Choral Ensemble joins in unison as street peddlers and strollers celebrating Parisian cafe social and daily life. As the landlord Benoit, Raymond Uy manages to go from being sober to being duped into a drunken confession by his garret tenants. As Alcindoro, Musetta's wealthy and elderly suitor, Johanan Bickhardt retains his dignity while being tricked into paying the bill for the Latin Quarter revelers.

This is a colorful and lively version of "La Boheme" that is well worth the picturesque scenic route along the Delaware River to Narrowsburg.



What: Puccini's "La Boheme," staged by Delaware Valley Opera

Where/when: Seelig Theatre, Sullivan County Community College, 112 College Road, Loch Sheldrake, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6; also Tusten Theatre, 210 Bridge St., Narrowsburg, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 14, 3 p.m. Aug. 16.

Tickets: $25, $22 senior citizens, $15 age 18 and younger