By Leigh E. Rich
Arizona Daily Wildcat April 3, 1996
Although Puccini's "La Boheme" tells the all-too-recognizable bittersweet tale of destitute artists surviving on integrity and searching for love, it is "the most famous and widely performed opera of all time," says professor and musical director Charles Roe. It is Puccini's talent and popularity € and the 100th anniversary of the opera's premiere € that urged Roe and the UA School of Music to recreate the Italian virtuoso's 1840s Paris in Crowder Hall.
Well loved worldwide, Puccini's operas are familiar to most people, if only by name ("Madame Butterfly," "Tosca," "Turandot," among others). He wrote in the 1890s during an era dominated by verismo, a large movement in opera away from fantasy and toward truth and realism. "La Boheme"'s dramatis personae are not historical figures or deities, but rather real people with decidedly real problems.
The opera opens in the height of winter in a loft in Paris, where an assemblage of Bohemians - a poet, an artist, a musician, a philosopher € use their creativity to stay warm. Roe explains, "That's the motif of the opera: cold. They are freezing. It's Christmas eve. They have no wood for the fireplace ... They live for their arts' sake." The poet even offers up some of his work as kindling, but the others resist on the basis of artistic probity. Puccini explores the concept of love, not just for their art but each other. "I would say they are all like fraternity brothers," Roe says.
This love story, of course, would not be complete without Puccini's courageous heroine, La Boheme herself. Suffering from consumption, she falls in love with the musician, and, through her inevitable progression towards death, they come to know the unconfuted love and authentic commitment.
Roe boasts of Puccini's genius. "We actually experience her whole death ... Puccini is known for writing the most beautiful melodies. He is a master of writing music to fit the scene. Some people say that he manipulates the audience. Of course, we want to be manipulated."
Roe affirms that "La Boheme" does just that, with help of talented singers, musicians, and designers. In collaboration with the Theatre Arts Department, the designers researched this period piece "all the way down to the hair styles." And, to Roe's excitement, it will be performed in its original Italian. Supertitles, "translations that will be projected above the stage," explains Roe, will convert Puccini's story for those who are a little rusty with their Romance languages.
All who are involved have approached "La Boheme" with much care. "The opera singers," Roe says, "pride themselves on not having to use any amplification," and conductor John Roscigno has worked to achieve a 100th anniversary "to sound as Puccini (would have) wanted it."
Puccini died in the 1920s, just before finishing "Turandot," one of the most famous spectacle operas. "La Boheme"'s second act offers a taste of Puccini's talent at orchestrating such spectacle. Roe concedes, "In Act II, it's all downhill for the director. There are so many people on stage ... And while Crowder Hall seats 500, by opera standards, it is an intimate theater."
Whether it is Puccini's beautiful melodies, his sincere story, or the School of Music's attention to detail, "La Boheme" is certain to move audiences this weekend, as it has so often before. Many scholars even believe it to be somewhat autobiographical. "(Puccini) was poor. And he was an artist, of course ... He was known to have fallen in love, if you will, with all of the women in his operas. He fell in love with his heroines."