La Boheme

“La Boheme”
a kate west review
directed by Baz Luhrmann
Music by Giacomo Puccini, Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica
at the Ahmanson Theater, 135 North Grand Ave at Temple St., Los Angeles CA 90012
call 213-628-2772 Fall 2004

Baz Luhrmann’s more familiar magical feats are his two luscious films “Romeo and Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge”, both nominated for Academy Awards. His work in theater is no less dazzling. His latest production, “La Boheme,” direct from the Australian Opera and Broadway is now playing in Los Angeles and is a virtual feast for the eyes and ears. The cast rotates due to the demanding vocals and this particular matinee performance showcased the wonderfully talented young stars Alfred Boe as Rodolfo and Wei Huang as Mimi.

Set in Paris in the 1950’s, the producers contemporized the Italian score so the written English translations emulate 50’s cool with slang words of the day. The thinking behind this is to get away from the more traditional grand scale operas which depict unrealistic looking singers portraying young lovers and to make the beloved story more accessible to younger audience members. These singers really are young and cool. This Sunday Ben Davis (Marcello) and Chloe Wright (the sultry temptress Musetta) were especially captivating, while Daniel Webb (Colline) and Daniel Okulitch (Schaunard) nicely rounded out the rest of the Bohemian gang.

Mimi is sick with tuberculosis when she meets Rodolfo and both are terribly poor yet in spite of life’s circumstances they fall in love. Their story parallels that of Marcello and Musetta who fight back and forth and have a tumultuous and doomed love affair. Rodolfo eventually leaves Mimi when he realizes he cannot deal with her illness. They do not come together again until the end when the friends all gather around a dying Mimi. This simple story has been told in thousands of opera houses around the world and always evokes emotional intensity. The Bohemian artists struggle in life and love and still manage to celebrate their existence with fervent passion.

The production features a revolving set (designed by Prisque Salvi) which alternates between bare minimum and drab and jazzy, dazzling and electrifying. Also, the crew members are clearly visible to the audience, casually strutting in during scene changes demystifying the whole opera experience. Costume Designers Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie also alternate between drab and colorful, depending on the mood of the scene.

All of these elements tie in brilliantly to the humor and tragedy of the story rendering the production more than worthy of the famously romantic score. Baz Luhrmann is quite adept at capturing the soul of a piece, skillfully using the music, set and costumes to carry the story and in this production he outdoes himself once again. Definitely a must-see.

Puccini - La Bohème / Freni, Pavarotti, Harwood, Ghiaurov, Karajan

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