Some operas are great introductions to the art form. Others appeal more to connoisseurs. But Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” is both, an experience to be eagerly anticipated for just about anyone.
The powerful story is about young artists living together because they are poor, one of whom find true love which ends tragically.
“It’s a perfect opera. It has a wonderful score with great singing and the story is very well paced,” says conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud.
Pittsburgh Opera will present four performances of “La Boheme,” March 30 to April 7, at Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center.
“The opera has great melodies that catch the ear,” says Tingaud, who led superb performances of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” for Pittsburgh Opera in 2013.
“The melodies are not difficult to remember and follow,” he says before mentioning many arias and duets in the opera which exemplify his point. “The melodies are rather simple, ones you would hear in the Italian countryside but so well written they immediately touch the audience.”
The conductor also mentions the perfect characterization Puccini achieves in many contrasting scenes, from the emergence of love between Mimi and Rodolfo in Act I, to the Christmas color and later a thrilling march in Act II, the chill of winter in Act III and tragedy in the final act.
Stage director Stephanie Havey says the operatic tradition of painting women as victims and idealizing of female death was particularly strong in the Romantic era.
“So, at first glance I see (in ‘La Boheme’) yet another story of a damsel in distress,” she says. “My way into the story is to ask who is Mimi? She tells us in her first act aria to Rodolfo that she is living in poverty and is alone. She has no one and works with hands (as a seamstress) for her living. I think as a modern-day woman that’s very admirable and also relatable. I see her as a survivor and a very strong, independent women.”
Havey was the first stage director in 2011 in Pittsburgh Opera’s resident artist program and has since built a fine career. She says Rodolfo and his friends exemplify the Bohemian movement, in which young men from bourgeois families gave up the comforts of home out of a belief system.
“Their worlds collide with two women who actually are living in poverty and struggling for survival,” she says, referring to the main story and a subplot. “They may not see the difference in the beginning but when tragedy strikes there’s a great contrast. The boys’ eyes are opened. It’s really a coming of age story for them when they realize their actions have consequences and that some people, such as Mimi, do not have the same choices and opportunities they have.”
Mimi is soprano Nicole Cabell’s favorite character to play. She likes the interpretation of Pittsburgh Opera’s production.
“It is very honest, nothing old fashioned about this approach,” says Cabell. “Mimi grows during the opera and has something to say as a character.”
Tenor Sean Panikkar is enjoying his return to Pittsburgh for the 11th time. Preparing “La Boheme” almost feels like a family affair to him because the singers portraying Rodolfo’s friends have become his friends from many past performances together.
He says many people get recordings in their head for pieces they go to hear life.
“For me, it’s the one with Herbert von Karajan conducting with Mirella Freni as Mimi and Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo. I was singing in the chorus in Detroit when Pavarotti came in to sing ‘Aida.’ It was incredible to be on stage and watch him work. I did get to meet and talk with him backstage.”