Completely different operas put on out completely different critics, however for many writers, I’d wager the reply to the wistful query “What brings you again, time after time, to La bohème?” might be “I’ve to cowl it.”
And whereas I wouldn’t search it out each season, I really don’t thoughts La bohème (Tosca, then again, I feel we want a break from.) I recognize its tunefulness, its brevity, how self-contained its libretto is, and the sentimentality with which it treats its naïve characters. Its realism is infinitely extra graspable than another opera of its period and the swaths that deal with scholar life nonetheless ring startlingly true.
But its predictability and ubiquity (and its predictable ubiquity) are tiresome and its perennial spinning as a “newcomer’s opera” punishes viewers members already snug within the opera home. If ballet has Nutcracker to get individuals within the door, no less than it’s confined to 1 a part of the yr. With Bohème spanning from Christmas eve to the “stagion dei fior,” “perennial” is an understatement.
So, what to do? Wow the newbies with senseless romance or throw the minted aficionados one thing to chew on? Every opera has its personal interpretative center grounds and Yuval Sharon at Boston Lyric Opera has brilliantly discovered one in every of Bohème’s by presenting the acts in reverse order.
Sharon’s cautious manufacturing (right here staged by James Blaszko), which originated at his house base in Detroit, visited Spoleto, and can journey to Philadelphia this spring, belongs to a rising class of productions (contemplate Christophe Honoré’s Divadienst Tosca for Aix in 2019 or R.B. Schlather’s Der Freischütz at Wolf Lure) which can be much less preoccupied with dialoguing with the itself somewhat than with the viewers’s relationship to the opera.
As sure operas, by way of popular culture, repeated efficiency, or each, harden within the collective conscience, an examination much less of what bought them there and extra of what holds them there makes a prepared, if thorny, postmodern rejoinder to presenting these titles at face worth.
After a night of, like Mimì, creeping up the steps to peek into the garret, an viewers primed to challenge a nostalgic, overly acquainted gloss on these somewhat imprecise characters will get the door slammed of their face simply as one thing attention-grabbing is occurring whereas Mimì expires. That destabilizing realization within the ur-Bohème’s ultimate moments, that we are literally not so many steps forward of those plucky youngsters we’ve got been peering in on, is what shatters.
The “classes” of the opera are simply extracted from the opera home, however we’re pointedly reminded a lot too late that they are going to be rather more painfully (and privately) internalized by the characters. With that lesson frontloaded, a positivistic sense of linear growth (that ought to hardly apply to younger individuals) melts away, as does a quiet sense of guilt for making ourselves aware of so many personal moments.
Bohème’s classes for its characters and manipulations for its audiences are now not prescribed. And of their place, we will lastly (and joyfully) affiliate freely inside the opera itself.
All that mentioned, a lot of this Bohème is simple. There’s not a lot radical Personenregie at work neither is there any gimmicky updating taking place. However past the novel, refreshing really feel of dislocation inside the opera itself, a brand new chronology signifies that cases of heavy-handed foreshadowing change into retroflexive textual and musical lighthouses for a listener traversing this all of the sudden unfamiliar piece.
That is represented actually by “The Wanderer,” the manufacturing’s least mandatory intervention, a heat older gent (Marshall Hughes, a Boston opera scene mainstay) providing intermittent commentary to the viewers from contained in the world of the opera, à la a much less spry André DeShields in Hadestown.
The reverse act order additionally redraws character arcs. In undoing doom from the tip of Mimì’s arc, she turns into an infinitely extra attention-grabbing (and extra current) character from the outset. Lauren Michelle appeared greater than prepared to hold the afternoon within the position. Each vocally and dramatically, her tackle Mimì is uncharacteristically expansive, even when her Italian was, as was the case with a number of of the singers, approximate all through, and her wealthy, even-tempered voice complemented a flirtatious, forthright characterization.
She additionally holds up nicely beneath the first disadvantage of this backwards Bohème, the very fact it compels her to sing a whole opera with no breaks earlier than lastly attending to her huge aria. Much less lucky in that regard was the Rodolfo of Jesus Garcia.
Timbrally, he is an ideal match, even 20 years after he sang the position in Baz Luhrmann’s 2002 Broadway manufacturing; the light voice is a youthfully flecked bronze wielded with model and squillo. But a pressure to succeed in excessive notes by manipulating their vowels usually rendered total phrases unrecognizable and his fatigue on the finish of the marathon efficiency was obvious.
Elsewhere, Chelsea Basler introduced a milky, barely coated sound to Musetta and Edward Parks was a surprisingly burly Marcello. Rounding out the garret gang, Benjamin Taylor provided a Schaunard with clear comedian timing and a refreshingly tangy baritone whereas William Guanbo Su’s no-frills “Vecchia zimarra” impressed because the opera’s first aria.
However when a “vecchia zimarra” is likely one of the extra engaging clothes onstage, one takes be aware; whereas a lot of the technical components have been fastidiously derived from photographs within the libretto (particularly John Conklin’s set, a steeply raked lunar disc spinning on a turntable, in addition to lighting by John Torres), Jessica Jahn’s largely interval costumes have been fairly chintzy.
BLO Music Director David Angus lead an attentively supportive efficiency from the orchestra which was unfold throughout about 1/3 of Emerson School’s opulent Colonial Theatre (what on earth did they do when Follies opened right here?) and the refrain, beneath Brett Hodgdon, offered a punchy Act II (or was it Act III?).
Sharon’s Bohème, rapturously acquired at its ultimate efficiency on Sunday, appears destined to hitch the regional circuit, if it hasn’t already. However it’s a value watch, particularly for probably the most jaded opera fan, no matter how bored with La bohème you might be. As a result of it’s a Bohème each extra about itself and extra about us than you’ve gotten ever seen earlier than.
Photographs: Olivia Moon