Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the January 15, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `La Boheme’
Sing out! "La Boheme" the opera is on Broadway.
It is a triumph from stage, opera, and film director Baz Luhrmann
and his wife and creative partner, production designer Catherine Martin.
A spectacle of artistry on every level, this bountiful musical treat
is filled with hot romance, charming comedy, and genuine pathos. And
it is of a non-condescending sort that is often missing in traditional
opera productions. Directed with an eye for action (not a dull, stagnant,
or unaffecting moment in this opera), it is performed by singers that
young, beautiful, handsome and uniformly excellent actors. Do you
The curtain is already up as you enter the Broadway theater. What
you see is a massive hunk of machinery, its dark nondescript contours
preside over the less imposing smaller pieces of colorless forms with
which it shares the dimly lit stage. What is it and where are we?
Firstly, it is bleak, to say the least. Yet, anyone who knows the
work of Luhrmann and Martin ("Strictly Ballroom," "William
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet," "Moulin Rouge") will
not be surprised by their ability to create unparalleled theatrical
and cinematic illusions.
Then there is the sight of men in black who begin, without fanfare,
to manually move, shift, roll, and turn the pieces slowly into a world
that even Giacomo Puccini would eventually come to recognize as the
rooftop garret setting for his opera "La Boheme." With the
opening notes, we have been transported to Paris in the 1950s and
for the next two hours sit transfixed. The fluidly devised stage magic
that occurs throughout the opera is always done in full view of the
audience. The scene on the Left Bank, the Cafe Momus, is created by
what looks like an unmanaged massing and mingling of the entire company
of carousers, revelers, children, and other assorted bohemians who
are then suddenly frozen in a tableau vivant that then literally explodes
with color and teeming life. It’s breathtaking and deserving of the
gasp and applause from the audience.
Let’s not belabor the point but settle it once and for
all: Opera is not new, strange, or unusual on Broadway. Even if you
discount Lord Webber’s pop operas and the countless sung-through derivations,
including the current "Les Miz" and "Aida," a few
of Menotti’s operas have had Broadway runs, as did Gershwin’s "Porgy
and Bess." Oops, I almost forgot acclaimed productions of "Carmen,"
and "Rosalinda" (an English version of "Die Fledermaus").
There must be more. Okay, so this is the first one sung in Italian.
Don’t worry, there are super-titles above, below, and to the sides
of you. These are a hoot as they are translated into 1950s vernacular
and include such gems as "Daddy-O," "where it’s at,"
and assorted expletives.
Whether you are an opera fan or not, this is a production designed
to thrill and move you. Purists will just have to deal with the idea
that the opera works just as nicely updated as it once did set in
the 1830s. And yes, tuberculosis was still unchecked in Paris in the
1950s. This is a newly envisioned version of the opera that Luhrmann
and Martin did 12 years ago for the Sydney Opera. Despite the overwhelming
presence of playful and innovative conceits, the opera is also treated
with reverence. The opera is above all respectfully served by the
intensity of young love and by the sheer energy that drives this opera.
It moves and breathes like none I have seen before.
Although I was invited to see more than one of the three alternating
casts of principals, time only allowed me to see one. At the performance
I attended the blonde and lovely Ekaterina Solovyeva was Mimi, the
seamstress with consumption, and comely David Miller, as Rodolfo,
the impoverished poet. They meet when she loses the key to her room
and it’s love at first sight. When they climb out of the garret onto
the rooftop for their ecstatic can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other
duet, "O soave fanciulia," the red-hot neon sign beside them
reading "L’amour" only underlines the passion. Even better
is the interplay of these well-defined personalities, as they break
up and make up again and again, in the musically rapturous snow-falling
scene at the border in Act III. I think I’ll just preserve and live
with the memory and not go back.
Giving the leads a run for the money are Eugene Brancoveanu, as the
painter with a lust for life, and the radiant Jessica Comeau as the
spirited and sluttish Musetta. As sung with delicious abandon by Comeau,
"Musetta’s Waltz" (the show’s hit tune) has never before (to
these eyes) personified by such a juicy dish. Delightful and decadent
Bohemians to the last, the entire company, under the masterful musical
director and conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos, deserve bravos. Four stars. Don’t miss.
— Simon Saltzman
and 53rd streets, New York City. $20 to $95. Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.