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Baz Luhrmann's La Boheme


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#1 Manhattnik

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Posted 09 December 2002 - 11:22 AM

It's no secret to Constant Readers here that I've been salivating at the thought of seeing Baz Luhrmann's La Boheme just around the corner on Broadway, ever since stumbling over a broadcast of the Australian Opera production on Bravo a year or so ago. I went about a week ago, and it was, to be completely objective, beyond wonderful. I'll let Ben Brantley of The Times, who nailed it perfectly, speak for me:

To experience the opening moments of Baz Luhrmann's rapturous reimaging of "La Bohème," Puccini's classic opera of love in a garret, is to feel a bit like Judy Garland's Dorothy when she stepped out of her drab Kansas farmhouse and into the land of Oz.

The review concludes, discussing the celebrated "L'amour" signage:

Those big red letters don't objectify love or reduce it to a commercial slogan. On the contrary, they evoke that brief, swirling period in young adulthood in which everything in life seems to be writ large. That's what Mr. Luhrmann's "Bohème," with its heightened but gloriously familiar reality, celebrates from start to finish.

The complete review is at:

http://www.nytimes.c...ter/09BOHE.html

#2 Calliope

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Posted 09 December 2002 - 11:29 AM

I'm going Thursday, I can't wait!

#3 Juliet

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Posted 09 December 2002 - 12:49 PM

I also love, love, love it.

The voices, the acting, oh my paws and whiskers, the *production*!!!!!!

I am very familiar with the Sydney Opera production, which has been altered somewhat for this show--but it was improved and I can't wait to go again.

Maybe if I'm very, very good.......

In my next life I want to be Musetta in That Dress.

#4 Farrell Fan

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 04:51 PM

I've been curious about the sound in this production, since it hasn't been mentioned, not even by Ben Brantley. It couldn't possibly be amplified to the ear-shattering levels of the average Broadway musical, I thought, where it's impossible to tell who's singing. Today I heard Mr. Luhrmann interviewed and I was glad to learn that he is very sensitive to this matter. In fact, like the New York City Opera, he never mentioned the dreaded word "amplification." Instead, he said that what the sound engineers did was "change the acoustical environment electronically." ;)

#5 dirac

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 05:25 PM

Thanks for reporting that, Farrell Fan. More Adventures in Euphemism! :)

The amplification for musicals is indeed awful these days. I mean, it's fine if you want to make Rodgers & Hammerstein sound like Blue Oyster Cult.......

#6 Juliet

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 06:00 PM

I am also very sensitive to over-loud amplification (maybe because my eyesight is deteriorating, I have ears like a fox...)---the sound for this production was fine. It is not an overly large house, by the way.

Calliope, what did you think?

I still want That Red Dress......

#7 Calliope

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 02:37 AM

I loved it. I am not an opera fan, so I was fully expected to nod off. But, I found myself looking forward to scene changes (pauses) and intermissions when all this "backstage stuff" was going on.
I just kept thinking, and many of many friends commented on what a great introduction to opera this is for a younger generation. The story/music are timeless and everyone was great.
I'm not sure how different the casts were, but I though the woman outsang the men (Ekaterina Solovyveva as Mimi and Jessica Comaus as Musetta)
I LOVED the sets and backdrops.
Catherine Martin, imagine what she could do with a Nutcracker production!
I give them Tony's already.
The subtitles were creative, I liked the use of different fonts. Some of the translations were a little "out there" even for me. And I didn't go home humming any tunes, but I realized, Oh La Boheme is the music in Pretty Woman (when he's in the limo) and Moonstruck!!!
I would definitely recommend it. I sat way back in row S of the orchestra, but the seats were fine anywhere in the theater.
The second act, just blew me away.
And it was interesting to read in the Playbill the director's comments of how and why they created the production 13 years ago when the Australian Opera wanted a new production to get a younger crowd in the audience and introduce them to opera. And the research they did. It was interesting.
Regarding the sound, we were trying to figure out if their mikes were toned down, b/c there seemed to be a glitch at one point and someone's voice kept going up and down (and I looked at friends who all had there brows furrowed) but I think , as Juliet said, it's a small house, so it wasn't overpowering.

I LOVED IT!
Having said all that, no matter how it's presented, I'm still not an opera fan, but I would see it again and take someone with me.
A very original presentation, I enjoyed it tremendously!

#8 Manhattnik

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 04:30 AM

Rather on the spur of the moment I went again last night, shelling out Real Bucks for a real ticket when I discovered that arriving at 3:30 to get on line for the $20 front-row tickets that go on sale at 6 pm was way Too Late. (The line seemed mainly made up of college students who'd been fortifying themselves with Starbuck's and card-games.

Solovyeva is drop-dead gorgeous as Mimi, looking every inch the honey-blonde glamor-queen she appears on the posters (do take a look at the website -- bohemeonbroadway.com), with sensual and sometimes pouty lips soaked in RED lipstick. Often I've seen Mimi look a bit mousey when she makes her entrance into the garret, and it's sometimes not clear whether Rodolfo has fallen for her on first sight, or is perhaps just toying with her a bit. With Solovyeva there's no doubt at all; I don't think there's a man alive who, if such a stunning creature were to materialize in his apartment, wouldn't do everything in his power to keep her from leaving! Here, Mimi says she is a "part-time" seamstress, and one wonders what she might've done for money the rest of the time; clearly she's no stranger to the Left Bank demimonde of the Cafe Momus scene.

All this beauty is well and good, but Solovyeva's voice matches her heavenly looks; she could sell out the Met with her Mimi, and I wouldn't be surprised if she does just that in the coming years. I've never heard "Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi" sung with such heart-rending joy and pathos. As has been noted, for all his brilliant stagemanship, Luhrmann is smart enough to know when to sit back and let the singers, and Puccini, take center stage.

Again, Jessica Comeau's Musetta brought down the house with her brilliantly acted "Quando me'n vo'soletta," and her masterful display of The Red Dress (Catherine Martin should win a Tony for that dress alone!). I was again enthralled by the tremendous detail and interplay of the street characters in the Cafe Momus scene, and how cleverly Luhrmann quotes from various photographs of mid-century Paris with which we're all familiar (and I'm too lazy to look up on the Web right now...).

Every act had its beautifully staged, wrenching -- and comic -- moments, although I was particularly blown away in the last scene, when the dying Mimi reminisces about her first meeting with Rodolfo, and how she knew all along he had found her key, and was hiding it from her. David Miller's Rodolfo (well-acted and tolerably sung) reaches into his undershirt and takes out the key on a ribbon, which we realize he's been wearing next to his heart since the day he met Mimi. He's standing behind and upstage of her, so we see him contemplating the key for long moments before he dangles it on the ribbon in front of Mimi -- wanting her reverie (and his own) to continue for just a few moments longer.

That was just one three-hanky moment among many. All it takes for me now is just the sight of that magnificent rooftop L'Amour sign, where Rodolfo sings "O soave fanciulla" to Mimi in a perfect coup de theatre. With a Beaux-Art angel supporting the cornice, yet. Too wonderful for words.

I have a feeling that by the time this run is over, Baz Luhrmann is going to have a lot of my money.

PS -- While we're talking opera and Pretty Woman, let's not forget that when Richard Gere takes his dolled-up streetwalker girlfriend Julia Roberts to the opera, of course it's La Traviata. How subtle is that?

#9 Calliope

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 05:55 AM

Thanks for that Manhattanik, I got goose bumps all over again.
And me of little knowledge about opera thought all this time Julia Roberts had seen Madame Butterfly with Gere :(

#10 balletmama

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 10:23 AM

Originally posted by Manhattnik
As has been noted, for all his brilliant stagemanship, Luhrmann is smart enough to know when to sit back and let the singers, and Puccini, take center stage.  


Yes, that is what most struck me. After all the excitement of the cafe scene, the most touching moments come afterward, when the street is quiet and the lovely, tender voices of Mimi and Rodolfo fill the house. Unfortunately, I did not bring kleenex...

#11 dirac

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 10:29 AM

A dissenting view, from Hedy Weiss for the Chicago Sun-Times. If the singers are as amplified as she indicates, I don't think any of them are headed for the Met:




http://www.suntimes....r-boheme09.html

#12 Juliet

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 10:51 AM

You know, I think she and I are on different wavelengths.

I didn't find the miking obvious in the slightest; I am not of the MTV generation, and while I am a serious opera fan, you won't get me lining up to see Wozzeck, grunge band or no.....

Did I mention that I found this review more than a little condescending and pompous? Just because people are younger does not mean that they are stupid, uncreative or unwilling to learn, much less enjoy opera.

Oh well, we are all different in our attitudes.

#13 Manhattnik

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 12:00 PM

Oooh. I want to give her such a zetz.

Anyone who thinks that Broadway show prices are "only slightly lower than for premium seats at the opera" needs to get out more. I can't speak to the price (or quality) of opera in Chicago, but it seems that this woman who likes to take the Met's name in vain hasn't been there lately, either to check out the prices or to observe the productions. A quick look at metopera.org shows prices that top out at about $280, just a tad more than Boheme's $95 top. (It also shows they're doing that production of Dialogues des Carmélites which got mentioned here recently.)

And to pooh-pooh Luhrmann's accomplishments by saying: "not only have opera directors been doing this kind of thing for decades now, but increasingly they've also been seeking out physically appropriate singers who can move and act convincingly, even if vocal prowess does remain an opera house priority," again makes me think she needs to get out more. I mean, has she ever seen Jane Eaglen? Or some of the warbling capon tenors who still haunt the Met?

Yes, some of the subtitles are a bit on the cute side sometimes, but so what? Far more often than that, they're clever and, with the meticulously rehearsed stage business and the marvelous singers who can actually move (I loved the two-second tribute to Jerome Robbins in the last scene), bring out subtleties and humor in the libretto which can often seem rushed past in opera-house settings, in which Boheme is simply one of many productions. This cast has been living and breathing Boheme for months already, and it shows in every loving detail.

Although I'm sure the show is miked, I found the "enhancement" to be very subtle and understated. I certainly never felt that electronics and boom-boxes were coming between me and any of the singers, most certainly not the heavenly Solovyeva, who seemed to have, and need, no help for her most forceful passages. If she had been overmiked she could never have modulated her voice so gorgeously from her most dramatic paeons to the most piano moments where it seemed that she was, indeed, using her last life's breath to reach Rodolfo (and us).

Like a certain other critic whose writings have been a source of much commentary here lately, Weiss seems to be more enamoured of the axe she has to -- oops -- I mean her Thesis (Baz Luhrmann pandering to the MTV generation!) than of the tedious business of experiencing and sharing with us what's actually in front of her eyes (and ears). Even had I not seen Boheme for myself, her grandiosity and condescention, combined with her eagerness to bend the truth about the State of Opera to fit her other Thesis (there's nothing new about any of the good things that Luhrmann's done, only the bad [and who cares if it's new anyway? I sure don't!]) would make me very dubious of her conclusions. That and her rather pedestrian way with words; she's much better at declarations than descriptions.

And if she'd been observant enough to actually see this production with her eyes unscaled by her rather facile preconceptions (Moulin Rouge! "training wheels for the MTV-educated audience!" Five-second attention spans!) she might have noticed, as The Times' Brantley did, that Luhrmann's taking an entirely different tack in La Boheme from his movies: he takes his time about building his best moments, and he takes great delight in sharing his stagecraft with us. That we've just seen the stagehands muscle the amazing sets around and the actors chatting as they assemble themselves for some of the bigger scenes (not to mention the stagehand with a lantern representing the light from the artists' stove) adds to the wonder of the theatrical world they create before our eyes.

Either Solovyeva or Weiss must've been ill that night; even a heart of stone would've melted after Solovyeva's first aria. Or perhaps Weiss should take care to keep her ears covered next time she goes out in the rain (I know, I know, tin doesn't rust -- nevermind!).

#14 Calliope

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 01:39 PM

A perhap example of why I don't go to anything based solely on a critic.

A naiive opera question. Were parts cut out of La Boheme? As compared to the opera.

#15 Manhattnik

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 01:44 PM

I'm not enough of an expert to know what was cut, if anything. Did it say somewhere that there were cuts?


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