On a freezing Christmas Eve, love sparks. Two hands meet in the dark and four friends’ lives change forever.
Experience the romance of the original bohemian love story.
When Mimì meets Rodolfo, it’s love at first touch. They head out to bustling Café Momus, where the feisty Musetta and Marcello rekindle their relationship. But even the deepest love can’t warm a freezing winter. The bohemians have some growing up to do.
Some emotions are too big for words alone, and for that, we have music. La Bohème exposes your soul to the feelings that only music can express. The music soars with the ecstasy of love, crackles with the pain of jealousy and cries with the agony of loss.
Set among the fishnets and fairy lights of 1930s Berlin, this is one of our most popular productions.
Two stellar sopranos share the role of Mimì: Karah Son and Valeria Sepe. Kang Wang and Ji-Min Park sing as the poet, Rodolfo. Julie Lea Goodwin and Samuel Dundas have electric chemistry as the on-again, off-again lovers Musetta and Marcello. Carlo Goldstein and Tahu Matheson conduct.
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|Revival Director||Liesel Badorrek|
|Set Designer||Brian Thomson|
|Costume Designer||Julie Lynch|
|Lighting Designer||John Rayment|
|Mimì||Karah Son (18 Jan)|
|Valeria Sepe (28 Jan)|
|Musetta||Julie Lea Goodwin|
Opera Australia Children's Chorus
Please note: this production contains nudity and depictions of domestic violence.
Running time: approximately 2 hours & 15 minutes, including one interval.
Sung in Italian with English and Simplified Chinese surtitles.
“This revival of 2011's deft production by Australian theatre director Gale Edwards is an absolute gem”
A poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher walk into a bar (no, really!) to celebrate a sudden windfall in a lean winter. It’s Christmas Eve, and the poet has just felt the first pangs of great love. When a seamstress knocks on his door searching for candlelight, the pair fall in love faster than she can sing, "Yes, they call me Mimì…"
Between the ideals of love and art and the cruel realities of cold winters, bitter jealousies and empty pockets, two sets of lovers are trying to find their way.
By the time the curtain falls, you’ll know the answer to an eternal question:
Is love enough?
Not afraid of spoilers? Read the full synopsis.
It's 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 Benoît, 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 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 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.
When I thought about La Bohème conceptually, it seemed vital that we should aim to deliver a production with a deeply romantic and youthful love story at the centre of it — where young artists are happily enjoying 'starving in a garret', where sexual freedom was possible (Musetta claims she can sleep with whomever she pleases, do whatever she wants and be answerable to no one) and where a prostitute (as Mimì is forced by circumstances to later become) could die in the street from tuberculosis without anyone turning an eye.
Puccini set the original opera in the Latin Quarter of Paris in 1830. It was a burgeoning time for students, artists and performers — exciting, licentious and reckless. Seductive and destructive... the hedonistic life of the carefree 'bohemian'. It was also a world perched on the edge of revolution and change. Underneath the gaiety of this society there was a subliminal sense of its own looming destruction.
After some research and lots of thought, I decided that the parallel world might be Berlin in the late 1920s and early1930s. It was a short and intense burst of time when Berlin became the most attractive and decadent city in Europe attracting artists and bohemians from around the world. Free of censorship, its liberalism was extensive. Drugs and 'free' sex were the norm. Lesbians and homosexuals flocked to be a part of it, as did artists from all over Europe.
Inside this particular conceptual world, Café Momus made great sense as it could become one of the hot-bed cabarets that sprang up everywhere during this period and lit up 'after dark'. Dens of exotic iniquity where 'anything goes'... a bourgeois couple could happily be seated next to fashionable lesbians or same-sex couples without batting an eye. Drugs were available for easy sale and experimentalism was encouraged. Here Musetta could become the seductive, outrageously audacious 'star' of such a Berlin cabaret.
Our four young artists may very well be middle-class boys drawn to the thrill of this 'sin city' and 'slumming it' in a rented warehouse space, where it might be 'exotic' to have nothing in the cupboard to eat. They are having a carefree 'ball'! Of course just outside Berlin there was real poverty, starvation and deprivation. Our self-consumed young lovers would be oblivious to the forces gathering around them that would sweep away their heady, romantic bohemian lifestyle forever.
I wanted Mimì's death to bring home to the young men the true and terrible facts of their careless existence. Once Rudolfo abandons her because his freezing, drafty abode offers her no comfort, and he cannot afford medicine (because he does not like to work by the sweat of his brow), and then later the Viscount she is escorting throws her out, we hear that she has been living on the streets and sinking further into despair and the illness that — untreated — will kill her. Mimì's story is one of struggling just to survive. As a woman of the period, prostitution was one of the few options available. Love alone cannot save her. And this is a society that, sadly, does not care. Or even notice.
Brian Thomson took the idea up very quickly and soon we were looking at images of the paintings of George Grosz, who so encapsulates the decadent underbelly beneath the glittering exterior of the 'sin city' at that time. And we were talking about Spiegeltents, cabarets and bureaucratic check points to control the movement of people from one precinct to another (the toll gate in Act III). In only a few years the rise of Nazism would control the movements of whole populations, with hideous consequences.
The creative team of esteemed collaborators, Julie Lynch and John Rayment, costumed and lit the world that took shape in Brian Thomson's model box, and so we set out to create a Boheme that honoured the deeply moving central love story and delivered a world that made sense of both its bohemianism and its destruction, and the tragic death of its most fragile flower.
La Bohème at Arts Centre Melbourne in 2016. Photo by Jeff Busby.