The original bohemian tale may not involve cocaine, AIDS and the East Village, but it's not totally without relevance. The '90s smash Broadway hit Rent was modeled after Giacomo Puccini's most beloved and famed opera La Boheme, which remains arguably as popular today as it was when it was first produced in 1896.
Though it's served as a foundation for many pop culture adaptations, the original La Boheme remains a timeless, sweeping tale of love, suffering, sacrifice and friendship. And it marks the opening of Tulsa Opera's 2008-2009 season and the first production programmed and cast entirely by TO's new artistic director Kostis Protopapas (formerly associate conductor and chorusmaster).
"I'm thrilled," Protopapas said, "because we have a very fantastic cast for this production. I can't imagine a better cast."
Protopapas, along with executive director John Peter Jeffries, has taken the helm following Carol I. Crawford's resignation last spring.
La Boheme follows six bohemians struggling to survive and thrive in 1830s Paris. Marcello (Hyung Yun) and Rodolfo (Yegishe Manchuaryan) are an artist and poet, respectively, trying to keep warm on Christmas Eve by burning the pages of Rodolfo's latest manuscript when the opera opens. They are joined by Colline (Charles Temkey), a philosopher, and Schaunard (Ross Benoliel), a musician and then by their landlord Benoit (Peter Strummer), who has come to collect the rent. They eschew him by getting him drunk and pushing him out the door.
Mimi (Sara Jakubiak) is a pretty neighbor whom Rodolfo falls in love with. She is sick, though, presumably with tuberculosis. Marcello reunites with his former love Musetta (Donita Volkwijn) after she tricks her new beau Alcindoro (Strummer) out of enough money to pay their tab at their favorite cafe.
The tale climaxes in the third act when Mimi and Roldolfo make plans to leave one another, Mimi because Roldolfo is too jealous and Roldolfo because he is worried Mimi's illness will grow worse as a result of their poverty. They remain together until the spring.
When the season changes, the two men are separated from their girlfriends and enjoying a meager but lighthearted meal with Colline and Schaunard when Musetta crashes the party to inform them that Mimi is downstairs, too weak to make her way up to the apartment. Her friends try to make her as comfortable as possible and pawn some jewelry for medicine while she and Roldolfo reminisce of their former relationship. In the end, Mimi cannot be saved, and Roldolfo throws himself onto her body in agony.
(Unlike in Rent, there is no magical kiss to bring the girl to life.)
Protopapas directed La Boheme last year for Los Angeles Opera along with staging director Stanley Garner and baritone Yun, and he told UTW that this production will be similar to LA's.
"We're very fortunate to have the same staging director," said Protopapas, emphasizing that the staging director's vision is what directly affects the style and makeup of the opera, setting it apart from other productions.
"(Garner) comes from a theatrical background," Protopapas said. "His style is very naturalistic. He commented that this is one of the first operas he's done where the singers are the characters in every rehearsal.
It's coming very naturally to everyone."
Yun, who has also worked with Protopapas for LA Opera's Tosca and Santa Fe Opera House's Turandot said, "(Garner) trusts singers. He lets us go first with what we have prepared. Trust is the most important thing between a staging director and singers."
"He understands music, and he stages in a way that helps singers perform," added Protopapas.
The sets for La Boheme come from the Florida Grand Opera and were built by a movie studio rather than a scenic design company, Protopapas explained, offering added detail as well as added weight.
Soprano Volkwijn returns to the Tulsa Opera stage following last year's appearances as Micaela in Carmen and Bess in Porgy and Bess, and bass-baritone Strummer garnered international renown before settling with his wife in Tulsa where they both teach at the University of Tulsa.
Protopapas said TO last produced La Boheme in 2002, during his second season with the company, and the opera is one of the classics that TO aims to present every six to 10 years.
"Since we're the only big opera company in quite a large area, it's part of our mission to play the standard repertoire. We don't want too many generations growing up without seeing (the classic operas)," he said.
Protopapas said he hopes Rent's popularity will help garner enthusiasm about and sell tickets to La Boheme.
"I hope everyone who's seen Rent will want to see Boheme to see where Rent came from," Protopapas said. "It's different music but equally wonderful."
Protopapas added that La Boheme's culture implications are more reaching than to influence just one hit musical.
"Anyone with some exposure to pop culture has heard the music from Boheme, even if they don't realize it," he said. "It's a timeless story of love, friendship and loss."
The opera opens this Sat., Oct. 4 in the Chapman Music Hall of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St. at 7:30pm. Following performances are Fri., Oct. 10 at 7:30pm and Sun., Oct. 12 at 2:30pm. Tickets start at $20.
TO's 2008-2009 season also includes Hansel and Gretel, a classic opera that sort of fell off the radar for a while but that has recently been produced by several major opera companies, in February and Donizetti's L'elisir D'amore in April. For more, visit www.tulsaopera.com.
Share this article: