Saturday, November 22, 2008

La Vie Boheme

Because the production had been praised to the skies in the local media, I went to the San Francisco Opera's latest version of "La Boheme" on Wednesday the 19th where I watched the first two acts from the top balcony's standing room.

Musically, you couldn't ask for a much better ensemble, starting with new music director Nicola Luisotti's impassioned conducting and ending with Piotr Beczala, the Polish tenor who was Tamino last year in "The Magic Flute," singing the part of Rodolfo with such a combination of power and sweet purity it takes your breath away.

Still, what this production brought home to me was how much I despise "La Boheme" as a theatrical work, and how I've always disliked it no matter who was singing. The starving artists are all phony characters, and I've never given a damn whether any of them lived or died.

There, I've said it. I feel the same way about "Rent," and am thankful for the rude parody of the entire genre of dying-for-their-sexual-sins-while-singing in the porno puppet film, "Team America: World Police."

Should you be susceptible to the charms of "La Boheme," the current production at the San Francisco Opera would not be a bad place to start, though the staging of the Act Two Cafe Momus scene is frankly incomprehensible and doesn't make a bit of sense. You could also sit at the back of the top balcony with the Puccini score in your lap like the Opera Tattler (click here) and just enjoy the music on its own terms.


momo said...

Ha! I thought I was the only person who didn't like Rent, or at least the movie version. I couldn't watch it past the first twenty minutes.

sfphoneguy said...

I like La Boheme about once every 5 years or so. I agree with Opera Tattler - Puccini is SO manipulative! I get pissed off because I always get 'verklempt'...but my big problem with Boheme is Act 4 - they make a big deal about getting Mimi some medicine. Soon after, they burst in with the medicine. Then they huddle around the stove. I guess it doesn't occur to the Bohemians that it's necessary to actually GIVE Mimi the medicine. They never do, and it wouldn't really matter if they did - she'd die anyway...but it would be nice if they made the effort...unfortunately, in this SFO production, Mimi looks as healthy as the proverbial horse in Act 4 and is way too overdressed to be convincing....but the 'ragazzi' were all terrific!

Nancy Ewart said...

I am somebody who loved La Boheme but only if I can listen to it and not look at the usually quite overfed actors singing about starvation. Musetta is one of my favorite opera characters and I'd love to have more of her saucy character instead of my (sob) more humdrum self. I don't look for realism in opera so the lack of it doesn't bother me any more. However, I remember the first time I saw I Puritani and had to leave the theatre because I started giggling in the final act as the tenor - mortally shot - kept on singing. And singing. And singing. And singing.
SO. La Boheme. Puccini. TEHO.


Kaitebon said...


It's nice to know that there are others!

Civic Center said...

Dear Katiebon: Glad to bring you out of the Antipathy to "La Boheme" closet. I really never need to go see it again, and neither do you.

Dear momo: "Rent" onstage isn't bad because it's written for young people to sing and act, which works with the subject matter, but it's still the same damned "La Boheme" plot with AIDS standing in for tuberculosis. The movie, however, was wrong, wrong, wrong. The decision not to shoot in New York City but on Sixth Street in San Francisco instead was ridiculous, and the aging original cast members were as bad as their operatic counterparts.

Dear Nancy: "I Puritani" can't help but be absurd no matter how it's staged. It's another one that's best heard but not seen.