Now is the time to take the Puccini plunge!
If opera is a foreign concept to you, but you’re more than willing to give it a shot (OR if you’re a super fan of the rock musical Rent); now is the time to take the Puccini plunge!
We know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry; La bohème is in English, and there’s subtitle screens to ensure the lyrics are evident throughout the thickest, and often lyrically overlapping, operatic moments.
La bohème is a love story that explores several elements of the emotion—ecstasy, joy, happiness, jealousy, agony, and despair—making it, above all else, deeply relatable. As the show opens, the audience is ushered back to 1930s Paris, and it is COLD. We’re not talking a chill in the air; this temperature hurts. To warm the attic studio he shares with three friends, Rodolfo (Andrew Haji) burns the manuscript for a play he’d just completed as painter Marcello (Anthony Clark Evans) huddles near to enjoy the heat-emitting performance.
Fortunately their roommates, Colline (Bradley Smoak) and Schaunard (Sean Michael Plumb)—a philosopher and a musician, respectively—show up before any of other possessions meet a fiery fate. Schaunard came bearing a surprise—food, firewood, and money! After hilariously evading their rent payment yet again, the group decides to live a little and spend what they have at Café Momus. Rodolfo keeps the others waiting in order to finish his work, but his productivity dissipates entirely when a beautiful, yet ill, woman named Mimí (Hae Ji Chang) comes to his door to ask if he’d kindly light her candle. (Sound familiar, Rent fans?) It’s no real spoiler that the two fall in love (ridiculously fast, but just go with it), and in the second act, we find that Marcello’s heart belongs to a racy, exquisite woman named Musetta (Lauren Michelle)—as frustrated as that makes him.
La bohème serves as a reminder of how much can change over the course of a couple of life’s seasons. Although this production is approximately two and a half hours, this is a plot you’ll be able to recall just as vividly as Rodolfo remembers the first moment he set eyes on Mimí. You’ll wish for the opportunity to remain in your seat a little longer rather than bid adieu to the enormously talented cast onstage.
In my reviews, I often identify a star, but in this case I simply can’t choose just one—both of the show’s leading ladies, Chang and Michelle, delivered mesmerizing performances, effortlessly achieving notes that seem absolutely impossible to produce.
While I suspect some will scoff at the simple costuming adorned by the show’s primary players, I commend the stylistic choice, which is void of unnecessary distraction. The set design too was simple, but again, it’s the personalities that colored the stage, including that of Parpignol (Eric Ferring), a toy-seller.
It’s been 120 years since La bohème debuted, and surely it will return to the stage and exit by standing ovation for another 120 years because of its timelessness themes. | Megan Washausen
La bohème will be performed on two more occasions, June 15 at 1 p.m. and June 25 at 8 p.m. For ticket information, visit https://www.opera-stl.org/.