Georja: Puccini’s La Boheme at the LA Opera is a magical production. It’s a familiar and popular opera – some of Puccini’s most memorable and haunting arias of love are to be found in this opera, and the melodramatic romantic story is simple and easy to grasp. It takes place in Paris in the late 19th century, and there are a lot of starving artists (called Bohemians at the time, a term also applied broadly to actresses and prostitutes). We meet a few charming ones who room together – Rodolfo (Stephen Costello) the poet, Marcello (Artur Rucinski) the painter, Colline (Robert Pomakov) the philosopher and Schaunard (Museop Kim) the musician. They are all scraping by, celebrating each others’ successes and applauding each others’ victories in work and love.
Gerald: Set designer Gerard Howland gives us a clue to the exact year the action is taking place by showing a partially finished Eiffel Tower in the background. That would make it exactly 1888, a year before the colossal iron structure was finished and provided the focal point for the World's Fair of 1889.
Georja: Marcello is still in love with the woman who jilted him, Musetta (Janai Brugger). Rodolfo meets the love of his life, Mimi (Ailyn Perez) in a most unexpected way as she knocks on his door to get a light for her candle. The gist of the story is in the reuniting and then separating of Marcello and Musetta, and the deepening of love of Rudolfo and Mimi, marred by her life-threatening illness. Rodolfo’s fear that he can’t provide for her ultimately drives them apart. At the end, there is a final reunification scene on Mimi’s deathbed.
Gerald: A particularly tragic element of the story is Mimi's succumbing to tuberculosis, just one of the fatal diseases that plagued overcrowded cities of the time, especially among the lower classes. Just four years later, the widespread scare was cholera. In today's world, you'd have to imagine her with terminal cancer or late-stage AIDS. It's a particularly horrific premise for a love story, even though many operas end with the death of the soprano lead singer.
Georja: The music takes over where the plot runs thin. The emotions are so beautifully captured by the genius of Puccini that it carries you away. The orchestra is superb under the direction of Patrick Summers, who makes his Los Angeles debut. LA Opera harkens back to the original production of the late great Herbert Ross. The Oscar winning director debuted his opera skills with this local production in 1993. It is lush and wonderful, with atmosphere becoming a huge component. The Parisian street festival scenes, packed with costumed members of both the LA Chorus and the LA Children’s Chorus, featuring clowns, soldiers and fine choreography (directed by Peggy Hicks) create that stimulating era.
Gerald: Of all the operas of all time, La Boheme is arguably the most romantic, the most melodic and the most consistently popular. In many of Puccini's other operas, including Tosca, which we'll see again next season, there are one or more show-stopping arias. In this stellar work, it's one jaw-dropping melody after another. These days, some opera aficionados think of La Boheme as overly saccharine, like a dinner that's all dessert. Don't mind them. It's a masterwork, by any measure. In fact, Andrew Lloyd Weber freely admits he borrowed liberally from Puccini, and you can hear strains of Phantom of the Opera in Act IV.
Georja: The sets were gorgeous, and the evening falling snow made the audience gasp. The only complaint here is with the lighting (designer Daniel Ordower). The sets for the most part are very dark and moody and definitely show what it was like living by candlelight. However, even with binoculars and sitting in Row Q, I found it difficult to see facial details, something I, coming from a theater background, really enjoy. There must be a way of better illuminating the faces without ruining the mood. For audience members sitting further back and older people, I’m sure it took away some of the visual pleasure of the production.
Gerald: Remember, it's supposed to be winter in Paris, in that North Atlantic climate famous for its gunmetal-gray skies. And our brave band of artists is freezing, not having even a sou left to buy a scrap of firewood. In the opening act, they are so desperate that they start to burn the pages of Rodolfo's work-in-progress. It's a play, and it must be particularly bad, because he and Marcello joke that it doesn't even burn well! As writers, Georja and I could only cringe.
Georja: As we are used to at LA Opera, the quality of the singing and acting is topnotch. I must say I was most taken with the young Janai Brugger as Musetta, and interested to learn that she is a 2012 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She, as well as her alternate Valentina Fleer, Mueop Kim and Ben Bliss as Parpignol are all members of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. Brugger’s voice has a vibrato and sweetness to it that doesn’t stop. Her big charismatic beauty and presence is thrilling. Can’t wait to see more of her.
Gerald: All of the principals in this cast are astonishingly young - and talented. They have brilliant careers ahead of them, and no doubt Maestro Domingo agrees, hand-picking them from the young artist development program.
Georja: There was much tenderness between Mimi and Rudolfo as played by husband and wife Perez and Costello, and it ultimately was extremely touching. Ailyn Perez’s voice is clear and strong, Stephen Costello’s has a wonderful emotional quality that is very easy to listen to.
Gerald: And I enthusiastically agree with Georja that Ms. Brugger's will be a career to watch. She practically stole the show - and her opera debut was just last year!
Georja: A beautiful show. Try to get a ticket.
Photos by Robert Millard for LA Opera
La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini
Saturday May 12, 2012 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday May 23, 2012 7:30 p.m.
Saturday May 26, 2012 7:30 p.m.
Thursday May 31, 2012 7:30 p.m.
Saturday June 2, 2012 2:00 p.m.
Published on May 20, 2012