Wednesday, October 3, 2018

And A New Season Begins

I had that recurring dream last night – the one where I’m standing in the wings of the Metropolitan Opera, in costume, waiting for my cue to go on and I suddenly realize….


YIKES!!  I’m singing the major role and I don’t know the words or the music!!!  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to wing it.  Mercifully, I wake up in a cold sweat before I am forced to test that theory, which I don’t think would hold up.  Phew!! 

Fortunately, the cast and conductor of Saturday’s opera knew exactly what they were doing.  After a long, opera-deprived summer, I couldn’t wait for our first opera of the 2018-19 Season, and it was well worth the wait. 




I have probably seen Puccini’s La Bohème more times than I have fingers and toes to count upon, but it never disappoints and, yes, I do know the words and music of this one almost note-for-note and word-for-word. The baritone role of Marcello, the tenor’s best friend and roommate, was one of my late brother’s favorite roles and one which he sang several times here and in Italy.  It’s a funny thing, but in operas tenors rarely have other tenors as best friends.  It’s almost always a baritone – too much competition, I suspect. 

The first Act of La Bohème introduces us to four young men living in a squalid room in the Latin Quarter in 1830s Paris.  It’s Christmas Eve.  Rodolfo, our tenor, is a poet, and Marcello, our baritone, is a painter.  They are cold and hungry and unable to concentrate on their work, when suddenly their roommate Schaunard, a musician, bursts in bearing gifts of wine, food and money.  They decide to save the food and wine and celebrate Schaunard’s fortune with a good meal at the Café Momus. 





Nicole Car and Vittorio Grigolo in “La Boheme” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl
Off they go leaving Rodolfo behind to finish an article for a local magazine.  His concentration is again broken, this time by a soft knock on the door.  He opens it to find a beautiful young woman, Mimi, holding an unlit candle.  She was on her way up the stairs to her tiny room when her candle blew out.  Could he please light it for her?  He lights her candle and ignites a love affair that will sweep the young couple up and us along with them in a turbulent, doomed relationship set to some of the most beautiful, romantic music ever written. 

Rodolfo pours out his love only minutes after meeting her (He is, after all, a poet and a tenor, and it is, after all an opera – can’t waste time!) in the aria/duet O Soave Fanciulla, and if your heart doesn’t melt as Mimi’s does, you must have been in another line when they passed out the romance gene. 







And so, off they go, arm in arm in the first flush of love, to join Rodolfo’s friends at the Café Momus. 

Act 2 is the signal for this production, designed by Franco Zeffirelli in 1981 and still going strong, to pull out all the spectacular stops. 







With over 300 handsomely costumed people on stage from children to adults, including a marching band and a horse-drawn carriage in which the coquettish Musetta, Marcello’s estranged girlfriend, makes a dazzling entrance, it’s a huge crowd pleaser.  The audience applauds wildly, and I, for one, never grow tired of seeing it, again and again. 

Rodolfo and Mimi join the crowd of Christmas Eve shoppers.  He buys her a sweet little bonnet and introduces her to his friends.  The scheming Musetta manages to win back her lover Marcello, Rodolfo and Mimi are blissfully in love and the Act ends in general jubilation. 

Unfortunately, it is not to last….






Credit Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
In Act 3, it’s daybreak on a cold winter’s morning.  The snow is falling.  Mimi makes her way to an Inn where Marcello is working.  It’s obvious that the cough she has had from the beginning is getting worse and she is gravely ill.  She tells Marcello that she and Rodolfo are unhappy and constantly fighting over his jealousy.  Marcello says that when a couple is unhappy they should not stay together, which upsets Mimi even more.  She leaves. 

Rodolfo arrives and Marcello berates him for his jealousy, until Rodolfo confesses the real reason for his behavior.  Mimi is dying of Tuberculosis, her frail body is constantly wracked by coughing fits and he fears that his cold, unheated room is hastening her death.  He is consumed by guilt. 

Mimi, who has been hiding, overhears Rodolfo pronounce her death sentence and comes forward to say goodbye to the man she loves, but collapses in tears.  Rodolfo embraces her and they decide to stay together through the winter, but to separate in the spring. 

It is springtime, and back in their squalid room, Marcello is trying his best to concentrate on his painting and Rodolfo on his writing, but their hearts are not in it.  Their hearts are elsewhere as they sing about Musetta and Mimi, the women they love and are no longer with.  Rodolfo takes out the little pink bonnet Mimi left him as a memento of their love, and he fondles it lovingly.  Roommates Schaunard and Colline come in and the four young men engage in some spirited, youthful high jinks to cheer up Marcello and Rodolfo.  






Nicole Car and Vittorio Grigolo in “La Boheme” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl
Suddenly, the door bursts open and Musetta runs in telling Rodolfo that Mimi is outside.  She is desperately trying to get to Rodolfo, but is too weak to climb the stairs.  Rodolfo rushes off to get her and gently lays her on the bed.  It is clear that she has little time left.  A smiling Mimi, finally happy in the arms of the man she loves, reminisces about the day they met while Rodolfo struggles to hold back his tears. 

Musetta gives her a muff to warm her cold hands and Mimi’s voice trails off quietly as she drifts off to sleep. 

Rodolfo turns away and stares gloomily out of the dirty window onto the rooftops of Paris.  Colline notices that Mimi’s hand has fallen out of the muff.  He picks up her hand to put it back in the muff and realizes that she is gone; he tells the others.  No one can bring himself to tell Rodolfo the truth, but he senses it.  He runs to the bed and cradling her in his arms he sobs “Mimi! Mimi!”    

Of all the operatic death scenes, Mimi’s quiet death is the one that never fails to bring me to tears.  Puccini lets the audience know first before anyone on stage, and in those few terrible minutes we bear the burden of that knowledge and the pain of knowing that we cannot spare Rodolfo the sorrow of losing his beloved Mimi. 

Now that you know a little bit about the opera, next time I’d like to talk about the wonderful cast, which included one of my favorite tenors, three impressive Met debuts, and the movie in which this very production of La Bohème played a major role.  Can you guess?  Stay tuned. 







17 comments:

  1. Ah, Puccini, my favorite opera composer! This opera tenderly captures the intensity of young love - the breathless highs and the heartbreaking lows. I, also, have seen the opera many times, and plan to see it again at the Lyric in Chicago this season. The famous, beloved, Met production still seems to be going strong after almost four decades. Do you think they will ever dare replace it?

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    Replies
    1. Like you, I can see La Bohème over and over again and never get tired of it. It's almost "singer" proof, as they say in the business. My husband swears a high school production could do it w/great success. It's such a gem!

      The Met production is said to be getting a bit threadbare, but it sells out every time. People love it. I truly hope they will continue to repair it and not replace it. I would miss it terribly. We might end up w/something like they did in Paris where the "bohemians" were space aliens dressed in space suits throughout the opera, to which I say "ET, GO HOME!"

      Thanks, Jo, for stopping by.

      Cheers, M-T

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  2. I enjoyed every word and this is one I have not heard. I will make sure that I do now I have it explained. I remember seeing a Shakespeare play some time back that was well performed at the University. I was so intrigued by it, I read many plays through the next year. Who knows..you may have cultivated a new like for me.

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    Replies
    1. Nothing would give me greater pleasure, Katie Isabella, than to think I might have planted a new cultural seed in you. I hope it blossoms!

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Cheers, M-T

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  3. Comment sent to me by my friend Anna:

    "Love the cat picture.

    I have seen La Boheme probably as many times as you have. Well, maybe not. You had your brother sing in it. Grigolo must have been great. Looking forward to the two operas we have in October.

    Cruising in Norway and nearing the arctic circle. Will pass it. Rain and cold. And more rain. But the country is beautiful."

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    1. I knew you would love the cat picture. It certainly caught my eye. Yes, Grigolo was terrific (more about that in my follow-up post). Looking forward to our October operas, as well, and getting together when you return from your fabulous trip.

      Cheers, M-T

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  4. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it, you may be a
    great author.I will remember to bookmark your
    blog and will come back in the foreseeable future.
    I want to encourage you to continue your great job, have a nice afternoon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by. Come back again.

      Cheers, M-T

      Delete
  5. La Boheme was the first opera I ever say and I was hooked for ever.

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    1. Josephine, I've always said it's the perfect first opera. If you can't relate to it, then opera is not your thing. So glad it became your thing. It's been mine for many decades. I share your enthusiasm for this wonderful art form.

      Cheers, M-T

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  6. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    It sure is a forever touching and dramatic, yet very human, ending and worked out to even stir our emotions on steroids.
    You have presented it so well here...
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    Replies
    1. Dearest Mariette,

      I'm so glad you enjoyed the journey with our charming Bohèmians. Hope you will enjoy my follow-up post as well.

      Always love your comments.

      Cheers to you and your darling Pieter,

      M-T

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    2. Dearest M-T,
      Have not been able to read blogs as hurricane Michael passed through and left us for 19 hours without power and even longer without Internet. Feel so tired... Kitties were nervous too.
      Hugs,
      Mariette

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    3. Dearest Mariette,

      I had no idea you were affected by hurricane Michael. It never occurred to me that you were anywhere near its path. I am so sorry. Hope things will soon be back to normal for you and Pieter and darling kitties.

      Big cheery hugs,

      M-T

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    4. Dearest M-T,
      Today we had again several power outages, guess they are working on the line constantly but it is not nice when you try to write something... Having to start up your iMac 4 times is a bit much. The 3rd time it went off for a while so I drove to Macon for an errand and came home 3 hours later. What else to do?! Trees need to get cleared and a Leyland Cypress is still leaning towards the road, that has to be taken down as well. But nothing to complain, compared to what people in Florida had to endure and still. They have no power, probably no water etc. It is tough when you cannot take a shower or anything, we lived through only one day of it. Try to compose a short post tonight with an update included. Sending you hugs,
      Mariette

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  7. Replies
    1. Always delighted to have you among my darling readers and am always pleased to hear from you.

      Cheers, M-T

      Delete

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