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27 August 2005

La Bohème

Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Luigi Illica and Hiuseppe Giacosa, based on the book Scènes de la Vie de Bohème by Henri Murger
Performers: Montserrat Caballé (Mimì­), Placido Domingo (Rodolfo), Sherrill Milnes (Marcello), Judith Blegen (Musetta); Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Walthamstow Town Hall, England, 1974

This opera was a lesson in speed-reading! Nearly two entire acts (II & III) are comprised of rousing crowd scenes in which dozens of people perform and sing simultaneously. I had to stop the music, quickly read to get a general impression of the action, and then take it all in sonically. There was no way to tease out the individual words or performers in some of these scenes - it was just big and fun and boisterous, very much in keeping with the idea that these characters are young, hand-to-mouth bohemians who are more interested in expressing themselves and having fun than obeying social conventions.

Again, as with most movies and operas, a certain suspension of disbelief is required when Mimì­ and Rodolfo fall in love while trying to find her lost key in the dark. Just like that - boom - sparks and declarations of love. But there exists an interesting tension in their relationship because Rodolfo recognizes that Mimì­ is dying of tuberculosis. He is torn between escaping their relationship before his heart is broken and comforting her to the last. The secondary love story between Marcello and Musetta is amusing and light-hearted, offering a counter-point to the serious leads.

For all of the quirky fanfare and playful ensemble numbers, the story ends on a tragic downer as (surprise) Mimì­ dies and leaves Rodolfo heart-broken. What I enjoyed about the ending was its stark, lonely quality. As the music fades, Rodolfo is left crying and shouting "Mimì­!" over and over. That's it. No flourish, no grand finale - just one man in despair. I'm convinced that Baz Luhrmann must have been a big fan of this opera and decided to incorporate that sort of desperation and pity into the ending of Moulin Rouge!. All I could envision was Ewan McGregor huddled over Nicole Kidman, weeping. Good stuff! [NOTE: after writing this, I looked it up and yes, Lurhmann has done a version! Good call, me!]

I chose this performance because I adored Montserrat Caballé as Tosca and Placido Domingo as Otello. They really are amazing performers, with Caballé's soulful, rich soprano and Domingo's expressive and emotional inflections. I am convinced now that any performance by these two artists is worth exploring. A fun, melodramatic opera.

And in other news, the Madison Opera is going to be performing Tosca in November, so I'm already making plans to try and find a babysitter!

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