There is no plot more elemental than “boy meets girl-boy loses girl-boy regains girl,” and there is no more perennial opera than La Bohème, which follows this formula for both its main and secondary storylines. Paring easily relatable characters and circumstances–the principal characters are basically everyone you knew in your twenties–with some of the most glorious romantic music ever written, the continuing relevance of Puccini’s most beloved opera is on display at LA Opera’s current revival. The production, which we saw on September 25th, has but two performances remaining, October 2nd & 6th at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The young cast was solid, performing their parts as though they were really living the bohemian existence they were depicting. Soprano Marina Costa Jackson was convincing and sympathetic as the ill-fated Mimi, her voice was clear and pleasing, if occasionally overpowered by the orchestra and the powerful tenor of Saimir Pirgu as Rodolfo. Baritone Kihun Yoon was powerful as Marcello, while Erica Petrocelli, a current student in the Colburn School’s Young Artist Program, handled the role of Musetta with the necessary self-confidence and aplomb; they and the rest of the ensemble appear to have promising careers ahead of them. As Angelenos have by now come to expect, the orchestra gave the score a lush and dynamic reading under the deft baton of James Conlon.
The staging by Barrie Kosky is straightforward in some ways, and novel in others. The Paris walk-up apartment in Act I & IV, while minimalist in some respects, is immediately recognizable to anyone who has seen the opera staged before; the use of a trap door in the stage as the room’s entrance to create the effect of a sixth story walk up is a particularly effective conceit. One interesting choice was to eliminate an on stage performer in the role of the rent-seeking landlord Benoit and to have his lines shared among the bohemians who do a pantomime of tricking and kicking him out of the flat. The device of removing the physical incarnation of the elder Benoit from the scene, one of the rare older and bourgeois voices in the drama, reminded me a bit of the way Peanuts never shows adults to present a world tightly focused on on its young protagonists.
The second act presented a lively Christmas Eve on the streets of Paris. But where a typical production normally focuses on the glamour and elegance of the restaurant Momus, Kosky augmented the table service with a revolving stage of decadent activity that seemed as inspired by the cabarets of Weimar Germany as fin-de-siècle Paris. The happiest part of the drama, it was also the most exciting part of the show. Austerity returned in act III in the form of a curtain meant to evoke the outside of a building, the gloom of the plot unleavened by a bit of drunken comedy featuring Marcello and some women of the evening. This was the least effective part of the staging and, for me, a bit of a drag on the show, though not to the point of blunting the heartbreaking force of the fourth and final act in which Ms. Jackson in particular excelled.
La Bohème is the quintessential romantic opera. The tale of love, loss and the transition from the joys of youth to the realities of adulthood continues to resonate with audiences all over the world in its third century on stage. LA Opera’s current production, with its young cast and fresh staging underpinned by its seasoned orchestra, testifies to the evergreen nature of Puccini’s masterpiece.
La Boheme. October 2nd, 7:30pm, October 6th at 2pm. Presented by LA Opera at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213)972-8001. Seats from $24. Visit LA Opera for tickets and more information.