This new production of La Bohème is – literally – an enormous vintage picture postcard of Paris. The curtain rises on a modern-day flea market with sellers touting their wares and an accordion duo entertaining the crowd. A present-day tourist discovers a stall specialising in objects d’art from the 1920s. Amid the bustle, a lone visitor puts a record on a vintage gramophone and we hear the opening bars of a very famous opera, transporting the audience back in time. Canadian designer and director duo André Barbe and Renaud Doucet – the team behind Turandot in 2017 – have created a gloriously extravagant production. Set in the interwar years when artists and writers flocked to Paris to live the bohemian life, Café Momus is full of flamboyant jazz-era figures, including a glamorously exotic Musetta. Canadian conductor Judith Yan makes her Vancouver Opera debut. A refreshing look at a much-loved opera.
The performance will last approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, including 1 intermission.
Sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™
Martha Lou Henley, C.M.
Alan & Gwendoline
Mike & Kathy Gallagher
Conductor: Judith Yan
Director: Renaud Doucet
Scenic Designer / Costume Designer: André Barbe
Chorus Director / Associate Conductor: Leslie Dala
Stage Manager: Theresa Tsang
In order of vocal appearance
Phillip Addis as Marcello
Ji-Min Park as Rodolfo
Neil Craighead as Colline
Geoffrey Schellenberg as Schaunard
France Bellemare as Mimi
Sharleen Joynt as Musetta
With the Vancouver Opera Chorus and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra.
In their Latin Quarter garret, the near-destitute artist Marcello and poet Rodolfo try to keep warm on Christmas Eve by feeding the stove with pages from Rodolfo’s latest drama. They are soon joined by their roommates—Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician, who brings food, fuel, and funds he has collected from an eccentric nobleman. While they celebrate their unexpected fortune, the landlord, Benoit, comes to collect the rent. After getting the older man drunk, the friends urge him to tell of his flirtations, then throw him out in mock indignation at his infidelity to his wife. As the others depart to revel at the Café Momus, Rodolfo remains behind to finish an article, promising to join them later. There is another knock at the door—the visitor is Mimì, a pretty neighbor, whose candle has gone out in the stairwell. As she enters the room, she suddenly feels faint. Rodolfo gives her a sip of wine, then helps her to the door and relights her candle. Mimì realizes that she lost her key when she fainted, and as the two search for it, both candles go out. Rodolfo finds the key and slips it into his pocket. In the moonlight, he takes Mimì’s hand and tells her about his dreams. She recounts her life alone in a lofty garret, embroidering flowers and waiting for the spring. Rodolfo’s friends call from outside, telling him to join them. He responds that he is not alone and will be along shortly. Happy to have found each other, Mimì and Rodolfo leave, arm in arm, for the café.
Amid the shouts of street hawkers near the Café Momus, Rodolfo buys Mimì a bonnet and introduces her to his friends. They all sit down and order supper. The toy vendor Parpignol passes by, besieged by children. Marcello’s former sweetheart, Musetta, makes a noisy entrance on the arm of the elderly, but wealthy, Alcindoro. The ensuing tumult reaches its peak when, trying to gain Marcello’s attention, she loudly sings the praises of her own popularity. Sending Alcindoro away to buy her a new pair of shoes, Musetta finally falls into Marcello’s arms. Soldiers march by the café, and as the bohemians fall in behind, the returning Alcindoro is presented with the check.
At dawn at the Barrière d’Enfer, a toll-gate on the edge of Paris, a customs official admits farm women to the city. Guests are heard drinking and singing within a tavern. Mimì arrives, searching for the place where Marcello and Musetta now live. When the painter appears, she tells him of her distress over Rodolfo’s incessant jealousy. She says she believes it is best that they part. As Rodolfo emerges from the tavern, Mimì hides nearby. Rodolfo tells Marcello that he wants to separate from Mimì, blaming her flirtatiousness. Pressed for the real reason, he breaks down, saying that her illness can only grow worse in the poverty they share. Overcome with emotion, Mimì comes forward to say goodbye to her lover. Marcello runs back into the tavern upon hearing Musetta’s laughter. While Mimì and Rodolfo recall past happiness, Marcello returns with Musetta, quarreling about her flirting with a customer. They hurl insults at each other and part, but Mimì and Rodolfo decide to remain together until springtime.
Months later in the garret, Rodolfo and Marcello, now separated from their girlfriends, reflect on their loneliness. Colline and Schaunard bring a meager meal. To lighten their spirits, the four stage a dance, which turns into a mock duel. At the height of the hilarity, Musetta bursts in with news that Mimì is outside, too weak to come upstairs. As Rodolfo runs to her aid, Musetta relates how Mimì begged to be taken to Rodolfo to die. She is made as comfortable as possible, while Musetta asks Marcello to sell her earrings for medicine and Colline goes off to pawn his overcoat. Left alone, Mimì and Rodolfo recall their meeting and their first happy days, but she is seized with violent coughing. When the others return, Musetta gives Mimì a muff to warm her hands, and Mimì slowly drifts into unconsciousness. Musetta prays for Mimì, but it is too late. The friends realize that she is dead, and Rodolfo collapses in despair.
MUSIC YOU NEED TO HEAR
Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) was immensely popular in his own lifetime, and his mature works remain staples in the repertory of most of the world’s opera companies. His operas are celebrated for their mastery of detail, sensitivity to everyday subjects, copious melody, and economy of expression. Puccini’s librettists for La Bohème, Giuseppe Giacosa (1847–1906) and Luigi Illica (1857–1919), also collaborated with him on his next two operas, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. La Bohème is based on the play Scènes de la Vie de Bohème by French author Henri Murger (1822–1861).
A passionate, timeless, and indelible story of love, Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème had its premiere at Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy in 1896. It had its Vancouver Opera premiere in our 1960-1961 Season, and was last produced by VO in our 2012-2013 Season. This is the 12th time Vancouver Opera has mounted a mainstage production of La Bohème.
The sets and costumes for this production come courtesy of Scottish Opera.
Pictured: Dr. Irving Guttman, Vancouver Opera's founding artistic director, in front the set from our 1960-1961 production of La Bohème.