With its timeless story and glorious score, Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème may well be one of the most beloved operas ever written. But according to Nashville Opera Artistic Director John Hoomes, it’s also one of the most accessible.
“For years, operas featured larger-than-life characters, such as kings and queens,” he explained. “But La Bohème is about an ordinary group of young people confronted by the realities of life. The first couple of acts are almost like watching an episode of Seinfeld. It focuses on the minutia of their lives — ‘How are we going to pay the rent? ‘How are we going to eat?’”
Based on Henri Murger’s novel, Scènes de la vie de bohème, La Bohème is set in the free-spirited world of starving young artists in 1830’s Paris. The story centers on the poor painter Marcello and his roommate, a poet named Rodolpho. Together with their friends Colline and Schaunard, the young men struggle to survive.
But a chance encounter with the lovely Mimi sets Rodolpho on a course of life-changing love, joy and — ultimately — heartbreak. Puccini’s work also inspired Jonathan Larson’s 1996 Broadway hit Rent.
“It’s interesting to note that at the end of Rent, Mimi does not die, while in La Bohème she does,” Hoomes said. “Opera is not afraid to look at the darker aspects of life. I think people are often surprised by the intensity of opera — how sexy or violent it can be. It reminds me of an interview I once saw in which an actor said ‘Every generation believes that they are the ones that discovered passion.’ And in a way, I think that’s true. It’s easy to assume that an opera written 110 years ago may not be relevant to our times, but that’s simply not the case. La Bohème is all about love and youth and the loss of innocence, and these are things we still care about today,”
Complementing such universal themes, of course, is Puccini’s heart-achingly beautiful music.
“One of the things that makes La Bohème so brilliant is the way the orchestra conveys so much of the story’s emotion,” Hoomes said. “There’s the text being presented by the performers, and then the orchestra adds this whole other element of emotion that is very affecting.”
The cast includes soprano Janinah Burnett (Mimi), tenor Jonathan Boyd (Rodolpho), soprano Caitlyn Lynch (Musetta), baritone Corey McKern (Marcello), baritone Eric T. Dubin (Schaunard), bass Jason Hardy (Colline), and bass-baritone Daniel C. Webb (Alcindoro/Benoit). Maestro Christopher Larkin will conduct the Nashville Opera Orchestra, with Chorus Master Amy Tate Williams directing the Nashville Opera Ensemble.
The world of opera has changed a bit, yielding a new breed of young operatic actors, Hoomes said. These are top-level performers, but because they’re all in their late 20s, he said it makes the story all the more believable.
“That’s our goal — we want to make the drama just as intense as the music,” Hoomes said.
For audiences who have never seen the opera before, Hoomes said La Bohème is a good introduction.
“The music is beautiful and easy to follow, and we project English subtitles above the stage. La Bohème is the perfect date-night because it’s so romantic. It’s an unforgettable love story. But be warned — you just may get hooked,” he said.
What: La Bohème
When: 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; a free discussion of the work takes place one hour prior in the theater
Where: Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall, 505 Deaderick St.
Info: Tickets available at the TPAC Box Office in downtown Nashville, at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in the Mall at Green Hills and at all Ticketmaster outlets; call 255-ARTS or visit tpac.org, ticketmaster.com; nashvilleopera.org