Opera Virgin Reviews: La Boheme
Opera Virgin here, giving you my fresh thoughts on an opera you’ve certainly seen before. This week I watched Puccini’s La bohème, directed by Giancarlo del Monaco at the Teatro Real in Madrid. And aside from a few snippets here and there, this is pretty much my first time watching or listening to any opera at all.
Why La bohème? Well I’d heard of it before, knew it was the inspiration for the musical Rent and figured it was as good a place as any to start my journey.
And I’m not going to lie, it was a little hard to follow at first. Rodolfo (Aquiles Machado) and Marcello (Fabio Maria Capitanucci) were singing over each other and I wasn’t sure what was happening and it was beautiful, but then their friends Schaunard (David Menendez) and Colline (Felipe Bou) came in and everyone was singing and then their landlord Benoit (Juan Tomas Martinez) shows up, and I’m just all confu— oh wait. They’re totally messing with him. That’s awesome. I’m in!
Mimi and Rodolfo’s first song was lovely, and now that I could follow the action a bit more clearly, I could see that love and tragedy lay ahead for both of them. But first, a delightful second act filled with the pageantry and circus acts of their Parisian neighborhood. And Musetta, a sassy match for Rodolfo’s roommate Marcello.
Onto the second disc with two lovers’ quarrels, a pause for more roommate frivolity, and a dramatic ending for our heroes (which I won’t spoil on the off chance you haven’t seen it before either) and bam! the curtain fell before I’d even realized we’d reached the end.
I don’t think I was alone there either. I was struck when Mimi, played by Inva Mula, came onstage to take a bow. She looked as though she’d been crying and was still too stuck in character to acknowledge the applause and cheers. I was pretty into the story— as much as I could be given that I was reading the lines instead of listening to them and not finding anything familiar about the music— but I was sad at the end. Mula on the other hand seemed devastated, and that gave me a taste of what a more seasoned opera goer might be feeling.
After hitting pause on the DVD, I went to do a little reading. The director wrote in the liner notes that Puccini’s music is considered common and sentimental by many. I agree that this plot was a little heavy on the drama, but no more than I expected. (I guess opera has a bit of a dramatic reputation among us non-listeners). But as for common? As a 21st Century music listener grounded in pop and hip-hop, nothing about this opera seemed common or catchy to me. Writing this up today, I’ve already forgotten any melodies or lines beyond, “They call me Mimi.” Which I just had to look up… the real line is “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì.”
I’ve been wondering for a while why opera seems so inaccessible, so uncommon. Can I break it down, find it’s commonality with popular music? Or just enjoy it for what it is?
Did you learn to love opera music, or did you have a sudden connection the first time you heard it?
What should the Opera Virgin review next?