Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘La bohÈme’By Bence Olveczky
Boston Lyric Opera
May 14 & 17, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets $31-$151. Student rush tickets (50 percent discount) available two hours prior to performance.
In La Vie de BohÈme, the Finnish cult film from 1993, one of the protagonists wryly announces that “Opera is dead.” Being a character in a film based on a Puccini opera, he should know. This ancient art form, goes the argument, caters to pompous, rich people, who in their impotent affluence indulge in theatrical fantasies about true, unattainable love. Opera is hardly a relevant forum for modern-day bohemians, whether in Paris or Cambridge. When, you might ask, was the last time somebody wrote an opera about a bunch of poor, but free-spirited guys who live it up in an apartment they can’t afford, while waiting for a sexy lady to knock on their door? Well, it was in the late 19th century, and the opera, of course, was “La bohÈme.”
Now Boston Lyric Opera revives this popular piece yet again, and treats it with respect, risking nothing, alienating nobody. The conventional staging mines Puccini’s opus for all its charm (there’s plenty), and the result is an entertaining, if not exhilarating, evening of feel-good, sappy opera.
The cast is even and solid throughout, and what it lacks in star power it makes up for in enthusiasm. The four bon vivant bohemians, huddling in their cold, damp Parisian apartment, bring to life a feeling of camaraderie and friendship that’s easy to empathize and sympathize with. Best of the lot is Frank Hernandez, whose memorable rendition of Marcello, the carefree painter, is helped by a sturdy and commanding bass. His jovial but sometimes brash manners make for good comedy, as does Angela Turner Wilson’s slutty rendition of his love interest, Musette. Wilson’s high-pitched soprano is a good match for the role, effectively conveying Musette’s frivolous character.
Somewhat less convincing is Nicole Folland as Mimi, the “sexy lady,” who just happens to knock on the bachelors’ door asking for a light to light her candle (literally and metaphorically). While Folland’s voice carries the role well, her acting is a little lacking. Mimi and the poet Rodolfo (tenor Stephen Mark Brown) are supposed to hit it off on the spot, but that instant attraction is a hard sell given the lack of any true affectionate rapport between the two. Still, the finale, with Mimi slowly dying in Bohemian company, is as moving as ever.
Elkhanah Pulitzer’s (her family founded the famous prize) staging is basic and simple, and she cleverly lets the production roll without too many theatrical effects mining its way. This hands-off approach nicely aids the music and the story, and it works well in the large part because of Erhard Rom’s spare, but fitting stage design. Many productions of “La bohÈme” have lavish and colorful sets, contrary to the spirit of an opera about poor and hungry artists. Rom’s stage set uses simple architectural elements (a brick wall, glowing windows, a bed etc.) and subtle lighting effects to create a spartan, but convivial atmosphere that suits the opera well.
To conclude its 25th anniversary season, the Boston Lyric Opera has created a barebones but beautiful production of “La bohÈme” that succeeds in translating the timeless appeal of Puccini’s masterpiece, while at the same time showing us that opera is anything but dead.