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Blog entries posted during April 2012

Los Angeles Opera Presents “The Story of La Bohème”

The Story of La Boheme

Opera can be as enchanting as a fairy tale, as raucous as the circus, or as dramatic as Harry Potter’s quest.  And better still, the action is set to some of the world’s most glorious music.  It seems to me to be the perfect entertainment for a child, and introducing children to the delights of opera is what SING ME A STORY is all about.

Dispel the notion that opera is “too difficult” for a child and present to your son or daughter an art form that encompasses all the arts: drama, music, and the visual arts through sets and costumes.  I wrote and illustrated SING ME A STORY to stimulate a child’s interest in opera by recreating, as fully as possible, the experience of a live performance.  With public schools steadily cutting arts programs, books on the performing and visual arts are more crucial than ever to educating our children.

To prepare your youngster for Puccini’s dazzling La Bohème, take a look at my retelling from SING ME A STORY.  If possible, play some musical highlights.  And if available, pop in a DVD of one of the many recorded performances.  You’ll be surprised at the richness and pure fun your child will experience when attending La Bohème, as he or she approaches the production with all the anticipation and wonder of an opera enthusiast, reveling in the gaiety and hardship that is the Paris of Puccini’s band of Bohemians.


Christopher Koelsch Named President and CEO of LA Opera

LA Opera is pleased to announce that Christopher Koelsch  has been appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Company, effective September 15, 2012.

The Company’s current Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Rountree, who has served LA Opera in an interim basis since late 2008 while also serving as President and CEO of the Music Center of Los Angeles County, will continue as the head of the Music Center and will join the LA Opera Board of Directors.

Eli and Edythe Broad General Director Plácido Domingo said, “We are very grateful for Steve Rountree’s guidance and leadership during the past few years. He has helped provide the Company with a solid foundation from which to build and grow. His guidance was strong and steady and will be missed. The time has come for LA Opera to have its own full-time business leader to join with me in continuing to advance the Company’s central artistic position, not only in Los Angeles but in the world of music. I cannot think of anyone more appropriate than Christopher Koelsch. Christopher is one of the most skilled professionals I have worked with and it gives me great pleasure to have him take on more responsibility as President and CEO of LA Opera. I embrace our future together at this wonderful company.”

Christopher Koelsch joined the company in 1997. He was named Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in 2010.  In his current role, and prior to that as Vice President for Artistic Planning, Mr. Koelsch has demonstrated exemplary leadership of the LA Opera team.  Under the guidance of Plácido Domingo, he has helped produce over 30 new productions, including four world premieres, and seven television recordings including the two-time Grammy winning Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny . Additionally, he has been responsible for all aspects of artistic and strategic planning, overseeing the Company’s music administration, production, marketing, public relations and educational administration.

We are excited that his role within the Company is expanding and can’t wait to see what the future holds for LA Opera under Mr. Koelsch’s leadership.


El Armario de Musetta

Sólo faltan cuatro semanas para la gran apertura de Boheme del compositor Giacomo Puccini, y el vestuario de Musetta va a estar justo en tiempo, o eso esperamos!

Les presento el equipo responsable de todo el vestuario magnífico de Musetta.  La líder es Leslie Ann Smith, una de nuestros talentosas constructora de vestuario de damas en el Taller de la Opera de Los Angeles.  Leslie Ann ha trabajado con nosotros durante doce años, en realidad es la tercera vez que ha trabajado en esta producción de La Boheme, y ella me dice que es una de sus operas favoritas. A ella le encanta hacer vestuario del siglo XIX hasta la primera mitad del siglo XX.  Asi que este espectáculo esta a la altura de su mundo favorito.

Leslie Ann trabaja en estrecha colaboración con su asistenta, Jennifer Shaw. La Fashionista del equipo, Jennifer ha estado con la Opera de Los Angeles desde 2005. Ella se graduo con especialicion en la moda, pero prefiere trabajar con el vestuario de la opera y el teatro y le encanta ponérselos también.  Jennifer me dice “no hay problema con los trajes de epoca, tambien estaban de moda en su día!

Una vez que Leslie Ann ha estudiado los diseños, toma las medidas de la artista, luego hace los patrones.  Jennifer transfiere los patrones a las hermosas telas propias para el escenario,  corta todas las piezas y se las entrega a las costureras del equipo, Hortencia Santos y Ana Wong, que meticulosamente cosen todo y añaden los toques finales.

No podemos olvidarnos de Hallie Dufresne nuestra artesana principal en el taller.   Todos sabemos que no podemos completar el modelo sin los accesorios. Hallie completa el “look” de Musetta con sombreros y joyas.  Gracias Hallie .. Con todo este trabajo del  equipo, estoy seguro que Musetta será fabulosamente vestida con sus nuevos diseños.

Si no, entonces creo que Musetta en el desnudo también será un Grand éxito!  La Boheme abre 12 de mayo hasta 02 de junio .. nos vemos en el teatro ..


Musetta’s New Clothes

Only four more weeks until the opening of Puccini’s La Bohème and Musetta’s wardrobe seems to be right on schedule, or so we hope!

Meet the team responsible for all of Musetta’s magnificent costumes:   The team leader is Leslie Ann Smith, one of our talented Drapers here at the LA Opera Costume Shop.  Leslie Ann has been with the company for twelve years. This is actually the third time she’s worked on this particular production of La Bohème, and says it’s one of her favorite shows. She loves making costumes from the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, so this show is right up her alley.

Leslie Ann works closely with her Assistant Draper, Jennifer Shaw. The Fashionista of the team, Jennifer has been with the LA Opera since 2005. She holds a degree in fashion, but prefers to work with costumes (and wear them too). What’s wrong with wearing period clothes, they were fashionable in their day!  Mrs. Shaw provides great support to the team.

Once Leslie Ann has studied the designs, she measures the performer, and then makes the patterns.  Jennifer transfers the patterns onto the beautiful stage worthy fabrics, cuts it, then hands it to the team’s Seamstresses, Hortencia Santos and Anna Wong, who meticulously stitch everything together and add the finishing touches.

Let’s not forget Hallie Dufresne (Senior Craftsperson), we all know you can’t complete an outfit without the accessories. Thanks Hallie! With the work of this team, I’m sure Musetta will be fabulously dressed in her new designs.

If not, then I guess Musetta in the nude will also be a great hit! La Bohème opens May 12 and runs through June 2nd. See you at the theater!


Followspots

Followspots are bright long-throw lighting fixtures manually operated by members of our stage crew and are used to highlight performers as they move around stage.

For almost all of the productions at Los Angeles Opera, we utilize between two and eight followspots in various locations. Most commonly these are located in the followspot booth at the top of the auditorium, at the back of the upper balcony.

View from stage looking at the followspot booth

View looking directly into followspots

 
It is over one hundred and thirty-five feet from the followspot booth to the front edge of the stage, at greater than a thirty-degree angle. The geometry of this makes movement highly sensitive, so with a few inches of action at the followspot, the beam moves dozens of feet onstage.

Operator point of view from followspot booth

The lead followspot operator works with the lighting designer during the rehearsal process to develop cues which are then conveyed to the additional followspot operators. Our followspot operators have many years of experience for this deceptively difficult task.

A followspot operator at work in the booth

A followspot operator at work in the booth


The story of “Dulce Rosa”


 
Based on the short story “Una Venganza” by Chilean author Isabel Allende (above), Dulce Rosa is a tale of romance and ruin, of revenge and redemption. In a South American country, in the early 1950s, times are troubled. Former Senator Orellano is the only leader who could unite the land, but he intends to stay in retirement, on his country estate, with his beloved daughter Rosa. In the jungle, in the Capital City, plots are woven, alliances are forged, and the fate of the House of Orellano is sealed. Led by the notorious outlaw, Tadeo Cespedes, the raiders attack at night. Wounded, Orellano comes to kill Rosa, who is hidden in the family chapel, because he knows what they will do to her. As does she. But Rosa is a true Orellano, her father’s daughter. She pleads for her life. “I can take it, whatever happens. Let me live, and I will avenge you.” Orellano dies as the raiders burst in. Tadeo saves Rosa from his men. But only for himself.
 
From the depths of her despair, as she recovers from her ordeal, Rosa summons the strength to step into her father’s shoes. In the Capital City, at the side of the new President whom he helped to power, General Tadeo Cespedes cannot forget the girl in the chapel, and what he did to her. Rosa haunts his waking hours, his sleepless nights.
 
Over the months in which the Orellano hacienda re-emerges from its ashes, Rosa calls Tadeo to her. He has no choice but to return to her for the merciful bullet. But Rosa’s obsession with Tadeo has changed her. She discovers that she does not hate him. The unthinkable has happened. Appalled, uncomprehending why God has punished her in this way, Rosa comes to see the truth, when she realizes with sudden clarity that she has forgiven the unforgivable. Her love for Tadeo is not a punishment for her pride, but a reward for her suffering. Fate, though, is implacable, and death takes Rosa from Tadeo forever, before they can even begin to understand the wholly unexpected happiness that lies before them.


LA Opera and Broad Stage to Co-Produce World Premiere of Dulce Rosa

Preliminary set design for "Dulce Rosa" by Yael Pardess

LA Opera and The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage are joining forces to co-produce the world premiere of Dulce Rosa, a new opera by composer Lee Holdridge and librettist Richard Sparks. Based on the Isabel Allende short story “Una Venganza” (An Act of Vengeance), Dulce Rose will be conducted by Plácido Domingo and will have six performances at The Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, from May 19 through June 9, 2013.

Dulce Rosa relates the aftermath of a violent political uprising, as a young woman plans her revenge against a merciless attacker. The title role will be performed by Uruguayan soprano María Eugenia Antúnez. The production will feature the LA Opera Chorus and Orchestra. The media art director and set designer is Yael Pardess, with costumes by Durinda Wood, lighting by Anne Militello and projections by Jenny Okun.

Dulce Rosa will be the inaugural presentation of LA Opera Off Grand, a new initiative developed to bring performances to a wider geographical area, increase audience diversity, and expand the range of experiences for the Company’s existing attendees. Many LA Opera Off Grand performances will be in neighborhoods that are not easily accessible to downtown Los Angeles; others will expand the traditional opera experience by experimenting with performance spaces, creative artists new to the genre and a variety of musical styles.
Tickets range in price from $20 to $150 and will be available in The Broad Stage’s “create-your own” subscription packages beginning June 25. Single tickets to Dulce Rosa will be available for sale to the public beginning July 30. For ticket information, please call The Broad Stage box office at 310-434-3200 or visit www.TheBroadStage.com.


To Youth: With Memories, Regrets, and Love

By Mary Jane Matz
 
At the end of January in 1893, Giacomo Puccini, then 34 years old, was still a struggling composer, still hoping for a hit. Neither of his first two operas had become popular, but he had hopes for the future; and they were fully realized a few days later with the triumphant world premiere of Manon Lescaut. It made him famous almost overnight, boosted by the popularity of opera at the time. Within a week, Puccini was planning La Bohème.
 
The Source of the Opera
For the third time, Puccini chose a French story as his source, which is not surprising, since he always had an international eye and a broad point of view. After all, he traveled extensively all over Europe and visited South America once and New York twice and took side trips to places like Malta and Egypt! As for his operas, most were not based on Italian sources. In addition to his first three “French” works, he used French subjects for Tosca, taken from Victorien Sardou’s melodrama, and Il Tabarro, from a play about bargemen on the Seine. With its strong Grand Guignol underpinnings, it exuded French local color. From the American cultural scene he used plays by David Belasco, a Broadway producer who wrote Madame Butterfly and The Girl of the Golden West. It became Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. Next came La Rondine, with its origins in Vienna. Beyond all this, Puccini admired Richard Wagner and actually saw Wagner operas in Bayreuth. In sum, he was never a purely “Italian” composer. That was something the Italian critics could never forgive, so they often railed at him for not being “national” enough and not hewing to Italian practice. None of the criticism mattered, for early and late Puccini paid no attention at all.
 
So it was that in 1893 he became interested in Henri Mürger’s popular Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, a series of little stories about Latin Quarter artists, their poverty, and their loves. Having first published these very personal accounts in installments in a French periodical, Mürger had then made them into a play and a novel. Puccini used both for his opera.
 
Creating La BohèmeTo transform this French material into a libretto, the composer turned first to Luigi Illica, one of several men who had collaborated with him in the problem-ridden development of Manon Lescaut. It had been nothing short of chaotic, with six or even seven people writing a text, and Puccini rejecting one act, one scene or one line after another. In the end the libretto of Manon Lescaut had to be published with no one listed as its author. But the hot-headed Illica could meet Puccini head-to-head, however demanding the composer might be.
 
From 1893 to 1896, Illica worked steadily on the project with the composer and with Giulio Ricordi, the powerful publisher who was Puccini’s mentor and sponsor. The first step: Illica wrote a scenario and then a drama based on the original play and novel. The poetic lines (required at that time by operatic convention) were then created by a revered poet-playwright, Giuseppe Giacosa, with Puccini and Ricordi adding their contributions to the text. This “four-man team” met often to discuss the work, batting around ideas and introducing new characters or new scenes. They also removed things that did not work, and Puccini even cut out one whole act! It was a process, not a single, lightning-flash act of creation. This same team of Puccini, Illica, Giacosa, and Ricordi later created Tosca and Madama Butterfly, which later joined La Bohème to make up the “trilogy” of Puccini’s most popular operas.
 
Puccini’s Bohemian Life in Milan and Tuscany
La Bohème became a window on the Left Bank culture of Paris, but it also opened windows on Puccini’s own life-experience. First it reflected what he had survived as an impoverished composer in the 1880s and early 1890s. “Miseria!” he would gripe in letters to his sister. So in the libretto, when the poet Rodolfo described the wretched conditions in his flat, Puccini could write about something he had actually lived through.
 
For years he rented cheap furnished rooms or tiny apartments, most in desperate condition. He pawned personal things, then had to ask his sister for money to get them out of hock. In the freezing winters of Northern Italy, he often had no heat. Nor was there enough money for a decent meal. In fact, we know what he ate: a couple of helpings of soup, with bread, cheese and wine; a simple plate of Tuscan beans and onions with bread and wine; or fried eggs, cooked on a spirit stove that he perched on top of his upright piano. Once when friends dropped in, Puccini and his mistress and his brother (all crowded into two or three rooms) had to sell and trade household items to scrape together enough money for grungy meat to make a stew!
 
Nor was all that miseria left behind in Milan. Parts of Manon Lescaut and most of La Bohème were written in Puccini’s bare-bones lodgings in Torre del Lago, a raw and primitive fishing village on a lake in Tuscany. On the day he moved in, all his possessions could fit on a single donkey-cart; and his mistress said, “We don’t have enough to eat!”

  Among the fishermen and their families in Torre del Lago were several young artists who soon became Puccini’s friends. Together they hunted, fished, drank, ate, staged mock heroic battles, dressed up in sheets and acted like ancient Romans, and played cards — tresette and scopa and briscola. Their refuge and sanctuary was a wooden hut roofed with dried reeds from the lake. They called it their Club la Bohème, and their antics and shared life certainly provided Puccini with material for his depiction of the artists in La Bohème. Three of these men were even identified with three of the principal male characters in the opera.
 
One of them, Ferruccio Pagni, who was closer to Puccini than the others, wrote later that when Puccini finished La Bohème, they were all together, for he often composed at night, with people talking or playing cards as he worked. On that occasion, Pagni said, Puccini was “just writing the last bars [of the opera]” while he and their cronies played cards nearby.

  “Be quiet, boys!” Puccini said. “I have finished!” Pagni and the others got up from the table and went over to the piano. “Now I’ll let you hear it. . . . This ending is good.” And he started to play Mimì’s last lines: “Sono andati.” As he played on and sang the words, Pagni said, they all had a sensation of “the eternal substance: Sorrow.” At the end, they were all crying.
 
So Puccini never had to invent any “Bohemian life.” These descriptions of his years in Milan and Torre del Lago come from real letters — Puccini’s own and those of friends and relatives. This means that La Bohème, for all its romantic haze, is basically a realistic work, a snapshot of Puccini’s early years. Nor did he ever forget those terrible days. Many years later, when he was the richest and most famous opera composer in the world, he remembered one of those plain meals, and he remembered it when he was in middle of the Atlantic Ocean, sitting in his private parlor in the Imperial Suite of a luxury liner. In a flash it all came back to him, and he longed to smell beef stewing on a rickety stove, as it had in those long-gone days.
 
The World Premiere of La Bohème
Far, far from being a series of star-turns, this is an ensemble opera about simple people who are almost destitute. As the first act opens we meet the four Latin Quarter artists: Rodolfo, a poet and journalist; Marcello, a painter; Schaunard, a musician; and Colline, a literary man and philosopher. They live from hand to mouth. The two women of the plot are Mimì, a frail girl who embroiders artificial flowers for a living, and Musetta, who sings for her living in cafes. When she is not with Marcello, Musetta trolls for elderly lovers; but in Act III, when she and Marcello are living together in an inn near the gates of Paris, they are broke, so she gives singing lessons to people who stay there, and Marcello “pays” for their room by painting murals on the outside wall.
 
These, then, are the people Puccini dearly loved. As he once said, he cared most about “little people with big sorrows.” Yet La Bohème is a full-scale opera, not a short verismo work about Sicilian peasants (as in Cavalleria Rusticana) or itinerant actors traveling in Calabria (as in Pagliacci). It would also be hard to imagine anything farther removed from the grandeur of the earlier operas of the 1800s: Donizetti’s shows about English royalty and nobility, for example; or Verdi’s Don Carlos, set in the court of Philip II of Spain, or Aida, set in the Egypt of the pharaohs. That is why La Bohème transformed its whole field, its genre.
 
The world premiere of La Bohème took place in the Teatro Regio in Turin on February 1, 1896, with young Arturo Toscanini conducting. Its cast was solid professionals, not queens and kings of the stage, so they were cut to the proper dimensions for this opera. In the end, its success swept everything else aside. It was everything Puccini had hoped for: a composer’s dream, for La Bohème is his opera, utterly and forever his.
 
Mary Jane Matz is the author of numerous books including Puccini: A Biography (2002) and Verdi: A Biography (1996). She is a frequent contributor to Opera News and many other publications.


LA Opera and Broad Stage to Co-Produce World Premiere of Dulce Rosa

Preliminary set design for "Dulce Rosa" by Yael Pardess

LA Opera and The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage are joining forces to co-produce the world premiere of Dulce Rosa, a new opera by composer Lee Holdridge and librettist Richard Sparks. Based on the Isabel Allende short story “Una Venganza” (An Act of Vengeance), Dulce Rose will be conducted by Plácido Domingo and will have six performances at The Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, from May 19 through June 9, 2013.

Dulce Rosa relates the aftermath of a violent political uprising, as a young woman plans her revenge against a merciless attacker. The title role will be performed by Uruguayan soprano María Eugenia Antúnez. The production will feature the LA Opera Chorus and Orchestra. The media art director and set designer is Yael Pardess, with costumes by Durinda Wood, lighting by Anne Militello and projections by Jenny Okun.

Dulce Rosa will be the inaugural presentation of LA Opera Off Grand, a new initiative developed to bring performances to a wider geographical area, increase audience diversity, and expand the range of experiences for the Company’s existing attendees. Many LA Opera Off Grand performances will be in neighborhoods that are not easily accessible to downtown Los Angeles; others will expand the traditional opera experience by experimenting with performance spaces, creative artists new to the genre and a variety of musical styles.
Tickets range in price from $20 to $150 and will be available in The Broad Stage’s “create-your own” subscription packages beginning June 25. Single tickets to Dulce Rosa will be available for sale to the public beginning July 30. For ticket information, please call The Broad Stage box office at 310-434-3200 or visit www.TheBroadStage.com.


To Youth: With Memories, Regrets, And Love

By Mary Jane Matz
 
At the end of January in 1893, Giacomo Puccini, then 34 years old, was still a struggling composer, still hoping for a hit. Neither of his first two operas had become popular, but he had hopes for the future; and they were fully realized a few days later with the triumphant world premiere of Manon Lescaut. It made him famous almost overnight, boosted by the popularity of opera at the time. Within a week, Puccini was planning La Bohème.
 
The Source of the Opera
For the third time, Puccini chose a French story as his source, which is not surprising, since he always had an international eye and a broad point of view. After all, he traveled extensively all over Europe and visited South America once and New York twice and took side trips to places like Malta and Egypt! As for his operas, most were not based on Italian sources. In addition to his first three “French” works, he used French subjects for Tosca, taken from Victorien Sardou’s melodrama, and Il Tabarro, from a play about bargemen on the Seine. With its strong Grand Guignol underpinnings, it exuded French local color. From the American cultural scene he used plays by David Belasco, a Broadway producer who wrote Madame Butterfly and The Girl of the Golden West. It became Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. Next came La Rondine, with its origins in Vienna. Beyond all this, Puccini admired Richard Wagner and actually saw Wagner operas in Bayreuth. In sum, he was never a purely “Italian” composer. That was something the Italian critics could never forgive, so they often railed at him for not being “national” enough and not hewing to Italian practice. None of the criticism mattered, for early and late Puccini paid no attention at all.
 
So it was that in 1893 he became interested in Henri Mürger’s popular Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, a series of little stories about Latin Quarter artists, their poverty, and their loves. Having first published these very personal accounts in installments in a French periodical, Mürger had then made them into a play and a novel. Puccini used both for his opera.
 
Creating La BohèmeTo transform this French material into a libretto, the composer turned first to Luigi Illica, one of several men who had collaborated with him in the problem-ridden development of Manon Lescaut. It had been nothing short of chaotic, with six or even seven people writing a text, and Puccini rejecting one act, one scene or one line after another. In the end the libretto of Manon Lescaut had to be published with no one listed as its author. But the hot-headed Illica could meet Puccini head-to-head, however demanding the composer might be.
 
From 1893 to 1896, Illica worked steadily on the project with the composer and with Giulio Ricordi, the powerful publisher who was Puccini’s mentor and sponsor. The first step: Illica wrote a scenario and then a drama based on the original play and novel. The poetic lines (required at that time by operatic convention) were then created by a revered poet-playwright, Giuseppe Giacosa, with Puccini and Ricordi adding their contributions to the text. This “four-man team” met often to discuss the work, batting around ideas and introducing new characters or new scenes. They also removed things that did not work, and Puccini even cut out one whole act! It was a process, not a single, lightning-flash act of creation. This same team of Puccini, Illica, Giacosa, and Ricordi later created Tosca and Madama Butterfly, which later joined La Bohème to make up the “trilogy” of Puccini’s most popular operas.
 
Puccini’s Bohemian Life in Milan and Tuscany
La Bohème became a window on the Left Bank culture of Paris, but it also opened windows on Puccini’s own life-experience. First it reflected what he had survived as an impoverished composer in the 1880s and early 1890s. “Miseria!” he would gripe in letters to his sister. So in the libretto, when the poet Rodolfo described the wretched conditions in his flat, Puccini could write about something he had actually lived through.
 
For years he rented cheap furnished rooms or tiny apartments, most in desperate condition. He pawned personal things, then had to ask his sister for money to get them out of hock. In the freezing winters of Northern Italy, he often had no heat. Nor was there enough money for a decent meal. In fact, we know what he ate: a couple of helpings of soup, with bread, cheese and wine; a simple plate of Tuscan beans and onions with bread and wine; or fried eggs, cooked on a spirit stove that he perched on top of his upright piano. Once when friends dropped in, Puccini and his mistress and his brother (all crowded into two or three rooms) had to sell and trade household items to scrape together enough money for grungy meat to make a stew!
 
Nor was all that miseria left behind in Milan. Parts of Manon Lescaut and most of La Bohème were written in Puccini’s bare-bones lodgings in Torre del Lago, a raw and primitive fishing village on a lake in Tuscany. On the day he moved in, all his possessions could fit on a single donkey-cart; and his mistress said, “We don’t have enough to eat!”

  Among the fishermen and their families in Torre del Lago were several young artists who soon became Puccini’s friends. Together they hunted, fished, drank, ate, staged mock heroic battles, dressed up in sheets and acted like ancient Romans, and played cards — tresette and scopa and briscola. Their refuge and sanctuary was a wooden hut roofed with dried reeds from the lake. They called it their Club la Bohème, and their antics and shared life certainly provided Puccini with material for his depiction of the artists in La Bohème. Three of these men were even identified with three of the principal male characters in the opera.
 
One of them, Ferruccio Pagni, who was closer to Puccini than the others, wrote later that when Puccini finished La Bohème, they were all together, for he often composed at night, with people talking or playing cards as he worked. On that occasion, Pagni said, Puccini was “just writing the last bars [of the opera]” while he and their cronies played cards nearby.

  “Be quiet, boys!” Puccini said. “I have finished!” Pagni and the others got up from the table and went over to the piano. “Now I’ll let you hear it. . . . This ending is good.” And he started to play Mimì’s last lines: “Sono andati.” As he played on and sang the words, Pagni said, they all had a sensation of “the eternal substance: Sorrow.” At the end, they were all crying.
 
So Puccini never had to invent any “Bohemian life.” These descriptions of his years in Milan and Torre del Lago come from real letters — Puccini’s own and those of friends and relatives. This means that La Bohème, for all its romantic haze, is basically a realistic work, a snapshot of Puccini’s early years. Nor did he ever forget those terrible days. Many years later, when he was the richest and most famous opera composer in the world, he remembered one of those plain meals, and he remembered it when he was in middle of the Atlantic Ocean, sitting in his private parlor in the Imperial Suite of a luxury liner. In a flash it all came back to him, and he longed to smell beef stewing on a rickety stove, as it had in those long-gone days.
 
The World Premiere of La Bohème
Far, far from being a series of star-turns, this is an ensemble opera about simple people who are almost destitute. As the first act opens we meet the four Latin Quarter artists: Rodolfo, a poet and journalist; Marcello, a painter; Schaunard, a musician; and Colline, a literary man and philosopher. They live from hand to mouth. The two women of the plot are Mimì, a frail girl who embroiders artificial flowers for a living, and Musetta, who sings for her living in cafes. When she is not with Marcello, Musetta trolls for elderly lovers; but in Act III, when she and Marcello are living together in an inn near the gates of Paris, they are broke, so she gives singing lessons to people who stay there, and Marcello “pays” for their room by painting murals on the outside wall.
 
These, then, are the people Puccini dearly loved. As he once said, he cared most about “little people with big sorrows.” Yet La Bohème is a full-scale opera, not a short verismo work about Sicilian peasants (as in Cavalleria Rusticana) or itinerant actors traveling in Calabria (as in Pagliacci). It would also be hard to imagine anything farther removed from the grandeur of the earlier operas of the 1800s: Donizetti’s shows about English royalty and nobility, for example; or Verdi’s Don Carlos, set in the court of Philip II of Spain, or Aida, set in the Egypt of the pharaohs. That is why La Bohème transformed its whole field, its genre.
 
The world premiere of La Bohème took place in the Teatro Regio in Turin on February 1, 1896, with young Arturo Toscanini conducting. Its cast was solid professionals, not queens and kings of the stage, so they were cut to the proper dimensions for this opera. In the end, its success swept everything else aside. It was everything Puccini had hoped for: a composer’s dream, for La Bohème is his opera, utterly and forever his.
 
Mary Jane Matz is the author of numerous books including Puccini: A Biography (2002) and Verdi: A Biography (1996). She is a frequent contributor to Opera News and many other publications.


La Bohème: Puccini’s “One for the Heart”

By Basil De Pinto
 
Comparisons are odious but we indulge in them anyway. Where the arts are concerned, we have to discipline ourselves to take each work and judge it for its own individual worth. Because a Botticelli is “pretty,” we cannot disparage it with reference to an El Greco, which is anything but. Although Don Pasquale is not Otello, we can still appreciate its bel canto splendors. La Bohème is one of the masterpieces of the Italian lyric tradition and rightly deserves its place in the canon. It is also well loved, as it should be. A work is not good because it is popular, but popular because it is good. Think of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or the waltzes of Johann Strauss. Verdi thought that the public was the supreme judge in these matters and he was right.

 
Puccini was not an “intellectual” composer, but he was extraordinarily intelligent. He was a man of the theater, he knew how to appeal to his public and, of course, he was a very astute businessman. He also understood the sentiment of his time, namely that a human interest story about believable people was the surest way to captivate an audience. But what he achieved in La Bohème reaches far beyond clever tactics. The emotional content of this opera, simply put, touches the heart in the most fundamental way. It is an irresistible tale, like that of Romeo and Juliet, where young love and a tragic end reach across historical and social boundaries to sweep us up and hold us fascinated.

 
In 1896 Puccini was already an experienced composer, but he had only one surefire hit behind him, Manon Lescaut. He would go on to write many other fine works but La Bohème is the unique example of his art at its finest. Why is that so? First of all he paints a large canvas with extraordinary economy of means. The score of La Bohème, without intermissions, takes barely two hours to perform. Sir Thomas Beecham, a famous interpreter of the opera, said he loved it because “Puccini gets right to it,” with no dallying along the way (and remember that Beecham was also a distinguished conductor of Wagner, who tends to dally quite a bit). There is an almost headlong movement in the first two acts from the lovers’ first meeting and the Christmas Eve celebration with their friends to the bittersweet row in the third act and the tragic music at the close. The pace has to do not with rushing anything, but with an inevitability that is both understandable and heartbreaking.

 
But if the composer’s strokes are few they are sure and clear. The characters in La Bohème are at once instantly recognizable and completely unforgettable. The two sets of lovers, whose Act 3 quartet is the musical and emotional heart of the opera, appeal to us not because we might meet them every day on the street—poets, painters, streetwalkers—but as real persons whose human traits might belong to anybody. Rodolfo is impetuous, dreamy, given to flights of fancy, sketching those “castles in the air” he sings of when he tells Mimì who he is. His next-door neighbor is frail and sickly, the kind of person easily overlooked until she bares her soul and reveals a poetic sensibility to match Rodolfo’s. Her opposite number is the extrovert Musetta, loquacious and vivacious and wily in the ways of the world. Marcello the painter, warm and outgoing, sees his mirror image in Rodolfo, the two of them capable of both generous loving and destructive jealousy.

 
The other persons of the drama are not minor, but skillfully crafted pieces of the overall mosaic: Schaunard, the savvy musician who brings home the bacon, and Colline, the reserved philosopher who cracks an off-color joke in Latin at the Café Momus and who gets a small but touching aria to grace the final scene. The buffo roles of Benoit and Alcindoro complete the muster of large-as-life characters that everybody knows, precisely, by heart.

 
Puccini’s musical palette does not have as yet the symphonic richness to come in The Girl of the Golden West or the game attempt at oriental exoticism in Turandot but it is amply endowed with the secure touch of a composer completely in command of his idiom. The score of Bohème is, unlike the libretto, the work of a single hand, steady, committed, moving with a sure touch from one scene to the next, enveloping the characters and situations with living and breathing musical form.

 
Think of the familiar opening rumble in the orchestra and the ascent to a swaying sound in the strings: even if we were not looking at the stage we would know that the curtain is going up, action is about to happen. And it starts right in: Rodolfo and Marcello, joking about the cold; the burning of the manuscript one act at a time, then the whole play; the flare-up and the warmth, the predictable heap of ashes. The other friends enter, then the landlord demanding the rent and his summary dismissal—all of it proceeding in rollicking fashion to bright, perpetual motion music.

 
With Mimì’s entrance a whole new mood transpires. Suddenly there is a quiet hesitancy in the music that depicts the shy, timid creature who immediately enchants Rodolfo, revealing something about him as well, a softer, more reflective side. They exchange intimate portraits of themselves and then join in the rapturous duet that fully illustrates the exorbitant, and perhaps rash, nature of their total immersion in one another. They proceed at once from the cramped garret to the big crowded space before the Café Momus, full of color and life, where Musetta and the hapless Alcindoro join them, she to catch Marcello in her snare, he left to pay the bill for everybody else’s party. The whole scene lasts barely a few minutes but it is an ingenious depiction of a riotous and carefree way of life that carries within it the seeds of conflict to come.


If we have been observing carefully, we notice a quiet exchange between Mimì and Rodolfo in the midst of all the noise and gaiety: he gently but surprisingly firmly tells her never to play the coquette like the scandalous Musetta, and she rather limply reassures him. As the curtain rises on the crucial third act we sense that the personal qualities of these two will lead them down a road that will tear them apart.


There is a brusque, almost brutal opening measure. The melancholy sound of a pair of flutes depicts the snow falling on a cold dawn at the entrance to the city. This is no longer the Paris of bright lights and exuberant laughter, but a place of darkness and poverty where street sweepers and peasant women hawk their meager wares. Her lovely theme ushers in an exhausted, failing Mimì, who calls for Marcello. She tells him of the intolerable strain of living with Rodolfo, who loves her but rails at her every movement that is not completely wrapped up in him. Marcello, warm and caring, understands what the central issue is: Can the lovers remain together in such a state?

 
Mimì hides as Rodolfo enters, blustering to his friend that he is sick of Mimì’s flirtatious ways. Marcello berates him, but then the real truth emerges. Rodolfo knows that Mimì is deathly ill; he is overcome with remorse that his poverty is making her illness worse; grief, not jealousy, is the basis of his roughness toward her. Mimì, coming forward, has the courage to say, in her touching farewell, that they must separate. What follows is an astonishing piece of musical and dramatic composition. Marcello re-enters, dragging along the ever rebellious Musetta. In the quartet that ensues, these two lovers are bickering and insulting one another, while Mimì and Rodolfo affirm both their love and their need to say goodbye. The soaring lyricism of the one pair merges with the half comic byplay of the other. The composer’s achievement lies in the contrast that keeps both musical lines intact so that they contrast but never obscure one another. We hear with great clarity a diptych combining both rage and sweetness. This is musical ingenuity of the highest order.

 
But the technique is there to serve the dramatic need. Because Puccini understood so deeply the psychological traits of his characters he was able to invest them with a musical form that expressed exactly the torrent of emotion on display. That is perhaps the most salient feature of the opera as a whole. At every turn the music heightens and enhances the drama as it unfolds. Raucous laughter, holiday merrymaking, the rush of first love, the sadness of parting, and the gaze into the abyss of death: Puccini’s music embraces it and exposes it with realistic precision but, more importantly, with deep compassion and empathy for the people and events he transcribes for us to experience vicariously. The end of the scene echoes the beginning: the stage is empty, the snow begins to fall again, and the same ominous chords come crashing down once more. This scene has to rank with the most moving of any in opera. Again, although brief it encompasses powerful emotion along with musical means that enhance the action and draw the audience into its wrenching intensity.

 
Interestingly, the last act does not come as an anticlimax after this great scene, but rather as a dramatic necessity. Mimì comes home to the garret where she and Rodolfo first met. Again the scene opens to comic horseplay that quickly gives way to the pathos of the heroine’s last moments. Briefly left alone the lovers recall the joy of discovery in this place, their self-revelation and their pledges of fidelity. All together, the Bohemians support one another, sharing a common loss. Perhaps each of them is thinking of the heights and depths that all must face, and finding courage in the sorrow that envelops them all.

 
Puccini gave the world at least a half-dozen masterpieces and put his characteristic marks of musical invention and dramatic incisiveness into one each of them. But no matter how much we enjoy and esteem them all, La Bohème has a unique hold on the operatic public. It has spawned stage and screen approaches like Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway version and the rock incarnation Rent. It has been the showcase for established stars and for hopeful beginners. It is indestructible because its inherent greatness both defies mediocrity and encourages artistic excellence. More than anything else Puccini knew the human heart and in La Bohème he mastered it once and for all.

 
Basil De Pinto is a writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. A frequent contributor to LA Opera programs, he has also written for the opera companies of Washington, Seattle, Atlanta and Fort Worth.


Stories + Music = Opera! ‘Opera Tales’ goes on tour in May!

There’s nothing like a good story, and luckily, the best operas always begin with a good story. Where, you might ask, would you find a good story from a good opera? Why, your local County Library!

        

LA Opera’s Opera Tales program celebrates the power of story and the joy of music.  Each spring, a squad of “opera pals” travel to eleven County of Los Angeles Public Libraries to bring a fun, high energy show for free family performances.

       

This year’s show, Verdi Opera Tales features four professional opera singers as the “opera pals” who perform musical moments from such Verdi opera stories as Falstaff, Simon Boccanegra, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, and La Forza del Destino in celebration of the composer’s 200th birthday. Our tour begins on Tuesday, May 15, and continues through Wednesday, May 30.

Check it out! Click here for the full schedule.

View the Verdi Opera Tales Map in full screen.

The Opera Tales partnership between LA Opera and the County of Los Angeles Public Library was established by Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, Fourth District. Generous funding for the 2012 Opera Tales program is provided by Supervisor Don Knabe and the Flora L. Thornton Foundation.


Ailyn Perez Wins The 2012 Richard Tucker Award

Congratulations are in order for Ailyn Pérez who was awarded the 2012 Richard Tucker Award. This prestigious prize, with a cash award of $30,000, is presented annually by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation to an American opera singer at the threshold of a major international career. Previous winners are a who’s who of the Opera world, including Renée Fleming, Deborah Voigt, David Daniels, Joyce DiDonato, Richard Leech, Patricia Racette and Dolora Zajick.

Ailyn also has the distinction of being the first Hispanic singer to receive the award in its 34 year history! Speaking on the phone from Atlanta, where she is making her debut with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra singing Poulenc’s Gloria, Ms. Peréz commented: “The Richard Tucker Music Foundation is extraordinary: it enriches American operatic culture and promotes and connects young American artists. Watching the Richard Tucker gala performance when my husband was announced the winner, and seeing international opera stars come together to honor the memory of one of America’s legendary artists at these galas are an incredible source of inspiration to me. I am truly grateful and thrilled to receive such an honor, and I am excited to be another voice to carry on his legacy.”

The 2009 Richard Tucker Award, which has been called “the Heisman Trophy of Opera,” went to Ms. Pérez’s husband and frequent collaborator, tenor Stephen Costello, so her award renders the couple dubbed “America’s fastest-rising husband-and-wife opera stars” (Associated Press) the first to have two Richard Tucker Awards on the mantelpiece – one for each.

Ailyn Perez first appeared with LA Opera in 2006, in the world premiere of Lee Holdridge’s multi-media concert work Concierto para Mendez. She returns to LA Opera as Mimi in La Bohème (May 12 through June 2), the final production of LA Opera’s 2011/12 season, appearing opposite the Rodolfo of her husband, Stephen Costello, who will make his Company debut.


Backstage Magic: April 2, 2012

An excerpt from the Los Angeles Opera League event called Backstage Magic 2012.  This year’s event showcased pyrotechnic and smoke effects.

In this clip Technical Director Jeff Kleeman talks about the company’s historic use of pyrotechnics and describes what goes into producing a 4th of July-style fireworks display on the LA Opera stage. Pyrotechnician Tom Newman sets up and operates the display.


Musetta’s New Look for La Bohème

We often find that the stage is a reflection of real life. Though Puccini’s “La Bohème” is set in Paris in the mid-1800’s, most of us can identify and even empathize with Mimi and Rodolfo’s struggles in life and in love. Period pieces are great reminders that throughout the ages, no matter the time or location, we are all united in having similar concerns, wants and needs.  But as French classical author François de la Rochefoucauld said, “The only thing constant in life is change.”  While our upcoming production of “La Bohème” is the same classic love story, it will be undergoing some small changes and evolving into a more updated version of the timeless tale.

Original Musetta Costume - LA Bohème

One of the principal characters, Musetta, will be getting a new wardrobe.  The new costume designer Jeannique Prospere (who also doubles as the costume supervisor for the show) had this to say, “We’ve focused on the details for Musetta’s new costumes. Her character is as multi-layered as her costume and each item is a glimpse into her story and her personality.”

Musetta's New Dress for Act 2 - La Bohème

Jeannique re-designed Musetta using a palette of colors that stay true to the time period that “La Bohème” is set in. We will be seeing Musetta in fiery orange, burgundy, gold, and off-white. Part of Jeannique’s job is to make sure that the re-designs she does will keep to the original designer’s vision for the production so that the show works as a whole.

Musetta's New Coat - La Bohème

In general, the whole show will be getting “refreshed”.  There will be more accents and subtle sparks of color that will breathe a new life into the classic production that we know and love. “Viva La Vie Bohème”!”

Musetta's New Dress for Act 4 - La Bohème

“La Bohème” opens Saturday May 12 and runs through June 2.


Musetta’s New Look in La Bohème (en Español)

A menudo encontramos que el escenario es un reflejo de la vida real.  París, 1800, la mayoría de nosotros nos podemos identificar y empatizar con Mimì y Rodolfo en la lucha de la vida y el amor.  Un autor clásico francés, Francois de La Rochefoucauld, dijo, “lo único constante en la vida es el cambio”.  Nuestra próxima producción de La Bohème de Puccini es la misma historia clásica de amor, con varios cambios, más actualizada.

Original Musetta Costume - LA Boheme

Jeannique Prospere, nuestra diseñadora del vestuario me dice que Musetta en nuestras ultimas producciones, con su vestido amarillo, su vestuario era mas como una cantante de cabaret.  El director, Greg Fortner, tiene una nueva visión para Musetta.  El interpreta a Musetta menos cabaret y mas como una chica rica..

New Musetta costume from Act 2 - La Boheme

Con la visión de Greg, Jeannique a diseñado un nuevo vestuario para Mussetta manteniendo el sabor de la epoca.  Utilizando una gama de colores más cálidos, vamos a ver a Mussetta vestida en color naranja intenso, rojo vino, tonos dorados y crema  Parte del trabajo de Jeannique es mantener los diseños originales integrando la visión del nuevo director.

Musetta's New Coat - La Boheme

En general, todo el espectáculo va a obtener una apariencia más fresca, habrá más detalles, con chispas sutiles de color, dando nueva vida a la producción clásica que conocemos y amamos, Viva la vie boheme!.

Musetta's New Dress for Act 4 - La Boheme

La Boheme abre el sábado 12 de mayo y se extenderá hasta 02 de junio .. nos vemos en el teatro.