When Mimi comes on stage, gone are the swishing petticoats and double-laced corsets of Victorian France. Instead, she dons plain slacks and a boat-necked striped shirt. Her backdrop is crudely sprayed graffiti, rusted bicycles, and sparse mod furniture. She hears the boom of Molotov cocktails and smells the lingering smoke of tear gas. She’s more the muse of Jean-Luc Godard than that of Giacomo Puccini.
This is a new Mimi, a new Paris, and a decidedly new La Boheme.
Some may cry, “Sacrilège!” But the creative minds behind Boston Lyric Opera’s latest endeavor will defend their daring choice—sliding the timeline from 1895 to 1968—as a faithful adaptation.
Italian director Rosetta Cucchi makes her American debut with Boheme and while she’s a stranger to Boston, she’s no stranger to opera. She’s staged renowned performances all over the world, but none so daunting as Italy’s most beloved opera.
“Boheme is the Italian opera,” Cucchi argues. “It is that perfect balance of joy and tragedy, tenderness and rage.”
Even with such a delicate task of adapting a classic, Cucchi wasn’t afraid to dive into set designer John Conklin’s bold vision of a La Boheme seen through the lens Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin. A seminal work of French New Wave cinema, the film chronicles the relationship between two mismatched but passionate “children of Marx and Coca Cola.”
Cucchi sees this inspiration as injecting context without marring the theme.
“This opera is about youth—even more than a love story. In 1968, young people were looking for their own way despite their parents and their government. To say to the world that they are free and want their own life,” Cucchi says.
BLO’s music director and conductor David Angus agrees. No matter what veneer glosses the opera, Puccini’s romantic genius shines through.
“Take Moonstruck,” Angus offers. “Cher plays this woman who has never seen an opera, doesn’t know anything about it, but goes to see Boheme and has tears pouring down her cheeks. You don’t have to understand opera to be deeply moved by this story.”
Angus and Cucchi have collaborated twice before at the Wexford Festival Opera and both gush about their “fantastic” relationship. Key to their partnership is a mutual respect for the music—the fixed variable of all Boheme productions.
“If people hate the staging, then they can close their eyes,” he advises. “They will still hear La Boheme.”
The BLO’s take on La Boheme will run October 2-11 at the Shubert Theatre. Visit citicenter.org for more info.
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