Gale Edwards’ lavish production inhabits 1930s Berlin, a hub for young impoverished creatives contending with the high cost of round-the-clock hedonism in a city seething with glitzy excess.
Berlin, midwinter, 1934.
A painter, a musician, a philosopher and a poet are having a night on the town. Café Momus is too pricey for them – they’ve nothing to weigh down those moth-eaten pockets. But why worry? The landlord is sorted, the bar tab can wait. They’re young and their lofty ideals will keep body and soul together.
And then there’s love. Ah, love. That tingle of electricity as two hands meet. The fire in the eyes of the girl you want so badly. Love will keep us warm, won’t it? Find out, when Puccini’s bohemian boys wake up.
Puccini’s penniless dreamers are the very picture of the original starving artist...
Back then, there were no arts councils, no grants, no HECS: Puccini’s penniless dreamers are the very picture of the original starving artist. But why do we glamorise this hand-to-mouth way of life?
Choosing the quill or the canvas over stability and respectability; renouncing all but a little daily bread to nourish the creative essence that burns within us? It certainly has a whiff of noble sacrifice about it, enduring hardship in the service of inspiration.
Gale Edwards’ lavish production brings the garret dwellers to 1930s Berlin, a hub for young impoverished creatives contending with the high cost of round-the-clock hedonism in a city seething with glitzy excess.
Little do they know that their art is bearing witness to the end of an era, and when that decadent bubble bursts they’ll have to step into the real world.
Until then, it helps to have friends like Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard and Colline to keep the cheap wine and inspiration flowing.
As for women, well, that’s another problem.
|Set Designer||Brian Thomson|
|Costume Designer||Julie Lynch|
|Lighting Designer||John Rayment|
|Mimi||Nicole Car (until 11 January)
Opera Australia Children's Chorus
Running time: approx two hours and fifteen minutes including one twenty-minute interval.
Performed in Italian with English surtitles.
It is Christmas Eve. Rodolfo, a poet, and Marcello, a painter, are freezing in their studio. Marcello is painting The Crossing of the Red Sea. Colline, a philosopher, arrives as the fire Rodolfo has lit with one of his manuscripts, flickers and dies. Schaunard brings reinforcements – food, wine and fuel for the fire, bought with unexpected money from his earnings as a musician.
A knock at the door and Benoit, the landlord, arrives demanding the rent. The four Bohemians ply him with wine and then
bundle him off. Marcello, Colline and Schaunard go off to join the celebrations at the Café Momus. Promising to join
them soon, Rodolfo settles down to finish an article he is writing.
There is another knock. This time it is a neighbour, Mimì – a beautiful young seamstress, holding her key and an unlit candle. She begs a light and Rodolfo obliges. Mimì departs and drops her key. Together they search for the key, and their hands touch. They tell each other about themselves and Rodolfo passionately declares his love. The new lovers then set off into the night to join the others.
The square in which the Café Momus is situated is the Bohemians’ favourite haunt, bustling with shoppers and
hawkers. Rodolfo buys his new love a bonnet.
At the café, Marcello’s old flame, Musetta, appears with a new admirer, Alcindoro. To attract Marcello’s attention, Musetta bursts into her famous waltz song. Marcello responds and Musetta, pretending that her shoe is pinching, dispatches Alcindoro to a cobbler. She joins in the revelry with Marcello and his friends. When they depart they leave a reminder for the hapless Alcindoro on his return – a huge bill!
It is daybreak just inside a tollgate. Snow lies on the ground. Mimì emerges from the throng of workers. She is looking
for Marcello at a nearby inn where he and Musetta have been living for the past month. Pale and agitated, she tells him of
Rodolfo’s jealousy which has made their life together impossible.
Mimì hides as Rodolfo suddenly appears. He declares her to be unfaithful, but then confides to Marcello that Mimì is very ill and blames himself and his poverty for not being able to help her. Mimì’s sudden coughing betrays her presence and the lovers sadly decide it is best that they part.
Their parting duet is interrupted by the sounds of a fierce quarrel between Marcello and Musetta. Mimì and Rodolfo decide to stay together until spring returns.
The studio, months later. Both pairs of lovers have now parted. Mimì and Musetta have found wealthy admirers.
Rodolfo and Marcello feign indifference, but neither can forget the memory of his love. Schaunard and Colline arrive with
meagre food and the four sit down to a mock ‘banquet’.
While they are acting the fool, Musetta rushes in with news that Mimì is desperately ill and has asked to be brought back to Rodolfo to die. Musetta explains that the Viscount has discarded Mimì and she has been living on the streets for weeks sinking further into poverty and desperation. The Bohemians rally to the cause. Musetta pawns her earrings and Colline his beloved coat to buy medicine for Mimì.
Alone for a short time, Mimì and Rodolfo recall the past, reliving their short spell of happiness and their dreams together. Mimì, seized by a coughing fit, falls back, exhausted. When the others return, she weakly thanks them for their kindness and falls asleep.
It is Schaunard who first notices that Mimì is dead. Rodolfo is the last to realise, by seeing the truth on his friends’ faces.
"Gale Edwards’s provocative staging of La Bohème, set amid the glamour and decadence of 1930s Berlin, was a visual feast"
“A sumptuous treat for the eyes and the ears, this is a wonderful night at the opera”
"This new version soars with emotional intensity and vocal clarity."