This Saturday at Grass Valley’s Del Oro Theatre Sierra Theaters presents Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” as the latest offering of new season of The Met Opera Live in HD.
The broad appeal of “La Boheme” cannot be denied. The most frequently performed work in Metropolitan Opera history, it may be the most performed opera of all. What makes this so? “La Boheme” is unremittingly romantic. The characters – “Bohemians” – meaning those artsy types inhabiting drafty garrets at the edge of poverty as they pursue their poetry, painting, etc., are easily recognizable. No princes, no fantastically impossible heroes and heroines: these are roguish, charming, flawed, realistic portrayals of human hopes and fallibilities. “La Boheme” epitomizes verismo, the Italian school that rejected the excesses of Romanticism to find artistic verity in everyday life, especially in the lives of the so-called “lower” classes. And Puccini’s score overflows with an abundance of melodic richness, it’s imminently hummable. If you’ve never heard the opera, you may recognize Musetta’s waltz from Act 2, Quando me’n vo’, adapted as the pop song “Don’t You Know” in the late 1950s. The pair of arias leading to the extraordinary duet between Rodolfo and Mimi in Act 1, Che gelida manina, Si, mi chiammo Mimi leading to O soave fanciulla, must be the most touching and ecstatic musical portrayal of falling in love that there is.
Of course, life on the edge exacts its price. The great plague of the 19th century, tuberculosis, known as consumption, consumes La Boheme’s heroine. Hearts break and tears flow, all with striking musical perfection. If you have an opera-phobic friend, this is the one to drag him or her to. The Met presents the classic period production designed by Franco Zefferelli, no high concept here, just Paris in the 1890s. Rent, the award-winning 1996 musical, is based on La Boheme. The song “Light My Candle” directly references the Act 1 scene mentioned above, the meeting of Rodolfo and Mimi. “Musetta’s Waltz” puts in a cameo appearance, and love and loss are front and center. In Rent the plague is, of course, AIDS.
John Deaderick is a local theater instructor, director, actor, and the author of “Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis,” available at Amazon.com.