Today I saw my second opera at the Seattle Opera in McCaw Hall, La Bohème. Set in Paris in the 1830s, Giacomo Puccini’s Italian masterpiece tells the heart-wrenching story of a set of artists who play out a story of despair, hope, and love. A very well known piece, it is the basis for the famous Broadway musical Rent. Seeing as I haven’t much experience with operas, or being a critic of anything for that fact, I’m not exactly sure what I want to write about here, but I figured I should still write.
The beginning of the opera seems quite cliché, until the viewer realizes that it is essentially the start of the theme that is considered cliché. A woman, Mimí, walks in needing something she has lost, and a man, Rodolfo, is immediately attracted to her, hiding what she needs from her to keep her in his room. Love at first site is always hard to believe for one that has not experienced it, but I shall leave the benefit of the doubt in Puccini’s favor.
Act 2 awes the viewer in an entirely different way. The dynamics exhibited by the massive number of actors on stage at a single time in incredible. These aforementioned dynamics create an exquisite environment for the characters, but continue to promote the actual plotline. The progression of the characters is clearly evident, and is quite important, as this is the Act in which one of the main characters, Musetta, is introduced. She is introduced in the context of being a past mistress of Marcello, Rodolfo’s friend and roommate. Introducing the character in this way is particularly interesting because, in the form of an opera, the jealousy and inconsistency between the emotions of the two characters aren’t emphasized, like in other forms of modern media. Thus, this act really emphasizes the uniqueness of the opera medium.
Act 3 is once again striking. As the motives of the characters are revealed to the audience, they are truly portrayed to be unique and interesting characters. Their ideas are not only intelligent, but also much more relevant to real life than most characters facing similar situations in media.
Between Acts 3 and 4, the stage manager of the show narrated the scene change between the two acts to the audience. This was particularly impressive, as the audience doesn’t often realize the amount of effort that goes into the creation of these shows. The backbone of the play is truly revealed when this is done by the production team.
Finally, Act 4 is one of the greatest scenes I have ever scene on stage. Set back in Rodolfo’s and Marcello’s apartment, it starts off on a very light note. Schaunard brings back some bread, and he and Colline have a mock battle with it. However, the tone quickly changes, progressing to an extremely striking, memorable and appropriate ending that focuses on the importance of love and value of life.
Overall, La Bohème was a fantastic opera that is definitely worth seeing. Unfortunately today was the last showing at the Seattle Opera, but many operas perform it, so it won’t be hard to find again.
Before I conclude this, I would like to point out a couple things. First, it’s really interesting that the piece is set in Paris, yet is written in Italian. However, the cool thing about this is that, because of my experience with Spanish, I was able to understand bits and pieces of the opera. Of course, there are subtitles, but it gave me a good sense of accomplishment as I watched.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge that this is not to be confused with the opera The Bohemian Girl, which is by Michael William Balfe. This is a commonly known opera which is mentioned in much pop culture. I have recently read references to it in Dubliners by James Joyce and Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I initially thought it was simply a translation of the title of this opera, but my research proved that it actually had the same plot as the Laurel & Hardy version that I watched online. Even so, I’m still glad I watched La Bohème.