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Puccini's undying opera, La Bohème, makes a grand entrance at The State Theatre, Melbourne for the opening night performance.
Simply put, the opera tells us about two love stories. One is between a struggling poet and a poor seamstress. The other story is about the poet's friend, the painter, who falls in love with a free spirited singer. Each couple part as a result of an intense love that leads to insecurities and uncontainable jealousy. Typically, in separation, they continue to love each other. How many of us have experienced this tremendous love that robs us of all faculties and common sense?
Originally performed in Turin, Teatro Regio, way back in 1896, La Bohème is still one of the most performed operas of all times. It is one of Puccini's masterpieces. The libretto is written by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa and is a delicate tapestry of poetry, entwined with Puccini's divine music.
More than 100 years later and here we are, listening to La Bohème as though for the first time. Those of us who know what to expect are still seized with emotion, which is no less intense than a newcomer to the opera who has never seen La Bohème before. It is worth taking a minute to consider what is it about this opera that conjures an almost habitual emotional response?
Of course the basic building blocks for a popular opera are the music and the accompanying words. However, these days it is not enough to be an opera singer with a superb voice to evoke emotion in an audience. Today, it is equally important and expected that an opera singer is also an actor. With numerous competitions and television programs like The Voice, singers have sprouted like mushrooms in a field. Everyone wants to be a star. The audience is over-indulged with experiences and expect to have a total sensory delight.
Last night did not disappoint. It was an auditory and visual feast.
Yosep Kang is the smooth tenor who plays Rodolfo, the young poet who falls in love with Mimì, performed by the charming soprano, Maija Kovalevska. Their love radiates warmth to the backdrop of a freezing studio. At the outset of the opera they generate a feeling of hope and happiness.
The fabulous cast also includes the soprano, Jane Ede as the coquettish Musetta and the rich baritone voice of Christopher Tonkin as Marcello. Their volatile love affair creates a real sense of tension and passion.
No less important are the supporting roles that add authenticity to the main story line. These are the friends of La Bohème, also artists; Christopher Hillier as Shaunard, the musician and Richard Anderson as Colline, the philosopher. They joke and throw around witty banter, creating a real sense of a bohemian, unconventional and creative lifestyle.
The designer sets by Brian Thomson are so clever. In Act 1 we almost feel the chill of the studio created by the bare, blue walls and a furnace that pumps out a few frail puffs of hot air. The transition into Act 2 takes your breath away. These empty walls rotate and open to velvet coated balconies, lit up by glittering lights. Sensual women in fishnets in outrageously provocative costumes show off their assets. In an eye blink, we are in Café Momus, the Bohemian's favourite bar. The costumes by Julie Lynch are in line with the time. Director Gale Edwards has moved the action from Paris' Latin Quarter in the 1840s to 1930s Berlin.
I watch the story unfold and can't help but think about all the people I know who have never witnessed an opera in their life.
I asked a few of my friends whom I know have never been, why that is. One friend said it is for the elitist and the elderly. Another said it is too pricey. A third said that they would like to go but prefer musicals.
Here is what I told them and want to share with you. Did you know that Baz Luhrmann's hit musical/film, Moulin Rouge borrows part of the storyline from La Bohème? That "Musetta's Waltz" is the theme song for the film Moonstruck? Have you seen Rent? Jonathan Larson's smash hit musical also borrows some of the characters and plot from Puccini's opera, La Bohème.
Unaffordable? Below are links, please take a look and you will find a way to get yourself tickets to the opera.
There are a few different accessible ticket offers – including the $20 ticket ballot, student rush, concession tickets, under 30s subscriptions and more options which are outlined on the Australian Opera website here.
There is also an opera for high school students promotion which offers group bookings at discounted rates. You can find the link by clicking here.
Introduce your child to the opera. If you go on the Arts Centre website, you can find $29 tickets for children to see this opera. Click here for more information.
Now, the point about Opera being elitist and for the elderly; last night I saw plenty of children as young as 10 right through to the more sophisticated, older crowd. There were plenty of attractive young men and women dressed beautifully for the occasion. It was glamorous, opulent and very hip. Maybe opera is coming into fashion with the younger crowd, I thought?
If you have never been to the Opera, what a wonderful introduction it would be if you see this production. If you have seen La Bohème, this production won't disappoint.
La Bohème plays at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 24 November 2018.