MET Opera House building–Lincoln Center/Tuesday November 9th, 2021.
Welcome back friends!
This week, friends, welcome again, to a wonderfully vibrant evening, of “classic” opera!
Yay! yay! yay!
One of the most popular operas ever, of the operatic canon!
Yay! yay! yay!
The music, the arias, the libretto, and the sets, all, being simply, ravishing, astonishingly beautiful, from the first bar, to the very last one; which often, make many opera fans, want to, gleefully and regularly, revisit, this romantic masterpiece by Puccini.
I am not kidding.
So welcome, to illustrious, emotionally compelling, and beloved, operatic treasure: Puccini’s “La Bohème”.
Welcome to an iconic, gorgeous, and deeply romantic opera, in four (short) acts, that celebrates with great simplicity, festivity, and harmony, every day life; its many joys and sorrows, with great “verismo” qualities, and in particular, key relationships, which many of us, in life, are incredibly stirred by, moved by, touched by, or said differently, ultimately “swayed by”: firstly, friendships of course, and secondly, of course as well, great loves, especially, among young people.
Yay! yay! yay!
And with main characters, who are all, young talented artists, of various genres, and who, we all get, to progressively meet (Rodolfo the poet/ playwright, Marcello, the painter, Schaunard, the musician, Colline, the philosopher, Mimi, the seamstress, and Musetta the singer/”courtisane”); thus, we get an extra layer of glittering stardust, added to this simple, relatable, and everyday story; a story, overflowing with youthful energy, friendship, companionship, humor, silliness, imagination, color, shaping, passion, creativity, style, flirtations, love, joy, jealousy, sorrow, depth, altruism, attentiveness, and expressivity.
Yay! yay! yay! and Wow!
And these vibrant friendships and loves, in this opera set in Paris, seem all, to bloom spontaneously and naturally, in a wintery and bitter cold atmosphere, (the opera begins on Christmas eve), an atmosphere of quasi-dire material poverty, yet multimillionaire creativity; and all these relationships are rendered, by the great composer, Puccini, and his wonderfully expressive and poetic librettists, Giacosa and Illica), both engaging, lively, charming, and fun: at times plain, straightforward, and realistic in their expression (a simple beautiful bonnet, as a gift of love; a coat, or earrings, pawned off, for friendship’s sake); yet, also, filled elsewhere, with captivating lyricism, sparkling joy, lighthearted, festive, slapstick humor, and youthful passion; which all, later, make the various challenges, the characters will have to face, that much more, moving.
Wow! and Yay! yay! yay!
So welcome again, to iconic “La Bohème” (1896), by immensely popular, in his own time, highly acclaimed, and leading composer of his generation, Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), who wrote some of the most famous works of the Opera repertoire, in addition, to his illustrious “La Bohème” opera; such as “Tosca”, and “Madama Butterfly” (all three operas, by the way, with the collaboration of the same two talented librettists, Giacosa (1847-1906), and Illica (1857-1919).
And Puccini, composed as well, many other beautiful and acclaimed operas, such as an earlier opera sensation, “Manon Lescaut”, and one of my favorites, Puccini’s last, uniquely majestic, and riddle-filled work, “Turandot”.
Wow! wow! wow! and Yay! yay! yay!
And I mention this, right off the bat, to let you know, that, with Puccini, we are definitely, in the presence of a great composer, a unique highly talented soul, who knew how to create joy or drama, from any storyline, and who also drew inspiration, for “La Bohème”, not only from great writers, but also musically, from great predecessors, such as, of course, three of the greatest composers ever: firstly, Mozart (in musical storytelling techniques: such as making the audience, await long, to meet the heroine, as late, as a possible, as in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” where we await long, as well, for the arrival of the Countess) secondly, Verdi (for diving into action, right from the start of the opera, with slapstick humor (as in Verdi’s “Falstaff”, without any opening prelude), and thirdly, Wagner (for the poetry of the libretto, especially, and the love of nature, as in all of Wagner’s wonderfully poetic operas).
Wow and Yay! yay! yay!
And Puccini, in 1893, as he started writing “La Bohème”, right after his latest “Manon Lescaut” overnight success, was fascinated by the social issues of his time, and especially compelled, by “bohemian” artists’ economic difficulties, living often, in difficult conditions, and in dire poverty even, for some of them. And Puccini, was not the only one, fascinated with “bohemian” artists: Leoncavallo (1857-1919), a famous Italian librettist and composer, of his time, who wrote the memorable, (1892) “Pagliacci” opera, was, as well; and wrote a similar opera, on that “bohemian” theme, around the same years Puccini did; and Leoncavallo’s opera, unfortunately, did not last the test of time, contrarily to Puccini’s beautiful, highly emotional, and relatable “La Bohème”.
And for Puccini’s “La Bohème” (1896), Puccini and his librettists, not only, adapted the 1851 novel, “Scènes de la vie de Bohème”, by French writer, Henri Murger, they drew as well, upon their own imagination, of what bohemian lifestyles, encapsulated for them; rendering even more romantic and charming qualities, to their characters, especially to “Mimi”, the heroine, who is less of a “gold digger”, and more of a poetic, and a hard working soul, than she is portrayed, in the novel.
Wow! and Yay! yay! yay!
So what is “La Bohème”‘s plot about?
In a nutshell, it is about warm and lively friendships, chance meetings, falling in love, jealousy, illness, love, kindnesses, and death.
In Act I, we get to progressively, meet, all of the young artists, who are living together, in a small “chambre de bonne”/studio, on the very top of a Parisian building, in the Latin Quarter, trying to stay warm, on Christmas Eve; by burning their own artistic works, on a stove; and finding hilarious, and mocking ways, to avoid paying rent, to their landlord, when he comes by their “studio”, to get paid. Some of the artists then, leave for a “Café” nearby, while Rodolfo, the poet, stays home, to work on an article. Rodolfo will then, unexpectedly, meet his neighbor, Mimi, a charming and yet ill, beautiful young seamstress, in need of lighting up her candle, which has gone out in the staircase, and who will knock at Rodolfo’s door, and with whom, Rodolfo, will immediately, fall in love with, as will Mimi, as they get to know each other.
And once they do (fall in love with each other), Rodolfo and Mimi, decide to join the rest of their “crew”, at the “Café” nearby.
Aww! and Yay! yay! yay!
In Act II, on a loud and festive Parisian street, Rodolfo buys Mimi, a bonnet, as a simple, sweet, spontaneous symbol, of their love for each other; and as they get to the Café, Rodolfo introduces Mimi to his friends, they all sit down together, and order a meal. A former glamorous singer/”courtisane” like sweetheart, “Musetta”, of one of the “crew” member, (of Marcello, the painter), then appears at the Café, on the arm, of an old and wealthy gentleman “protector”, Alcindoro, who, Musetta does not seem to care for, at all; as she seems mostly interested, and intent on, trying to recapture Marcello’s heart, by singing charmingly and joyfully, to him and others, while showing off, her seductive figure, to taunt him. And of course, ladies and gentlemen, it works!
Yay! yay! yay!
And the now “enlarged” group of friends, dashes out of the Café, leaving their bill, to be paid, at Musetta’s suggestion, by the older gentleman “protector”; and all run out, into the festive and loud street, where, even a fun military parade, can also be heard and seen, passing them by.
Oh boy! Yet of course, so fun, in its silliness! Yay!
In Act III, at dawn, just outside of Paris, snowflakes are swirling in the air, and we see Mimi (the seamstress), looking for the place where Marcello, (the painter), and Musetta, (the singer/”courtisane”), now live, a tavern. Mimi tells then, Marcello, of Rodolfo’s incessant jealousy, and as Rodolfo (the poet), appears from the tavern, Mimi hides nearby. Marcello and Rodolfo start catching up, and Rodolfo complains of Mimi’s flirtatious ways, and then, opens up, to the real reason of his distress, Mimi’s grave illness, growing worse by the day, and which, their poverty, only accelerates. Mimi, then runs to Rodolfo, immensely touched by his last comments, Marcello gets back to the tavern to join Musetta, whose laughter he overhears, also stirs in him, feelings of jealousy; while extremely movingly, Mimi and Rodolfo, after discussing a separation, finally decide, that they cannot part, and decide to remain together, at least, for a while, and at least, until the spring.
So incredibly sad.
In Act IV, months have passed, and Rodolfo (the poet), and Marcello (the painter), back in their original, Parisian, “chambre de bonne”/ “studio”, reflect on their loneliness. Colline (the philosopher) and Schaunard (the musician), bring a meager meal to them. To lighten up their mood, all four friends, stage a fun dance.
Musetta (the singer/”courtisane”), then, barges in, and tells them, that Mimi (the seamstress), is outside, too weak, to climb up the stairs. Mimi is then, made as comfortable as possible, in the studio’s bed; by then, Musetta asks Marcello to accompany her, to sell off her earrings; to get Mimi, some medicine; while Colline, pawns off, his own coat, for extra cash. Rodolfo and Mimi recall their happy days; and when their friends return, Musetta offers Mimi, a glove like “muff”, to warm up her hands. Mimi, slowly then, drifts away silently, towards death, and all, mourn her sudden, and yet expected, death.
So sad, yet, so incredibly moving and beautiful.
And what to say about “La Bohème”‘s MET Opera production, and about the singers?
Firstly, that Franco Zeffirelli’s beautiful 19th century set production, oozes with charm and poetry, and it is no wonder, that it is celebrating its 40th anniversary at the MET Opera, and that it has been seen, nearly 500 times (out of astonishing 1 345 performances at the MET)!
Wow! What a feat!
Secondly, the orchestra, and all the singers, under the “debut” baton of Eun Sun Kim, were incredible, energized, and filled with subtle and raw emotions, and I especially wanted to congratulate, American tenor, Charles Castronovo, for his beautiful depiction of the shy, yet funny, and later, truly besotted, and loyal, Rodolfo poet; Italian soprano, Federica Lombardi, as the seductive, joyful, and truly kind, Musetta, the vibrant and highly likeable, singer/courtisane, was terrific, and I also especially, wanted to give a particular, well deserved “shout out”, to Romanian soprano, Anita Hartig, as the lovely, ill, loving, and truly moving, Mimi, one of the best “Mimis”, I have had the chance, to admire, whose character she sang with both, utmost sensitivity, and controlled power.
And before closing this post, here, are two of my favorite arias:
First, let’s listen to and admire, Rodolfo’s charming and poetic self-depiction, a truly romantic moment:
And now, let’s hear and enjoy, Mimi’s “self-portrait”, an equally beautiful, moving and charming aria, which is her response, to Rodolfo’s own “self-portrait” :
So, to sum up my feelings, about Puccini’s “La Bohème”, admired last Tuesday, at the MET Opera, in great company: what a terrific and moving story, set to awesomely beautiful, heart stirring, and harmonious music, and what subtle arias; all of it, celebrating the importance of vibrant friendships and love, and the great strength, that joy, kindness, and attentiveness, bring to all; allowing thus, full appreciation, of all of life’s, wonderful and sometimes challenging, adventures and surprises.
Wow! Wow! Wow! and Yay! Yay! Yay!
Until next time friends!
Eternal butterflies 😊