BWW Review: LA BOHEME at Des Moines Metro Opera: A Breathtaking, Beautiful and Tragic Production
In 2002, I was indirectly introduced to La Bohéme. My introduction came when I was introduced to a musical that had come out and became a phenomenon on Broadway just 6 years earlier. The show quickly became a favorite musical of mine and showed me the impact that theatre can have on people. Since then I've seen Rent multiple times, but did not get the opportunity to see a production of La Bohéme until Des Moines Metro Opera's production, which opened on June 28. While it would be easy to talk about all the influences La Bohéme had on Rent, I'm going to do my best not to, and to focus on this breathtaking production.
Before we get too far, I want to thank and commend Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO) for the pre-show talk they gave before the evening's performance of La Bohéme. I found this to be very informative in explaining the time period the show was written in as well as the different musical influences Puccini had as he wrote his operas. It also explains why La Bohéme has become, for many people, one of the first operas they see due to its accessibility. When you go to see La Bohéme make sure you arrive early enough to attend this pre show talk.
The story of La Bohéme starts with Marcello and Rodolfo discussing how cold it is. Rodolfo decides to use the script he wrote to start a fire in their stove. Soon their friends Colline and Schaunard arrive with some food and money. Schaunard explains he made this money by playing his violin to a parrot until it died. He then tells the other men that they should save the food and go out to celebrate at Café Momus. After tricking their landlord Benoit, who shows up to collect the past due money he is owed, Colline, Schaunard and Marcello leave Rodolfo to finish the piece he is writing. As he begins to write, he is interrupted by a knock at the door. Mimi enters asking Rodolfo to light her candle. They quickly fall in love and Rodolfo asks Mimi to join him at Café Momus. While at the café, Marcello's former girlfriend Musetta shows up with a wealthy gentleman. Seeing Marcello, Musetta decides to trick the older gentleman to leaving so she can be with Marcello. When the bill arrives, and they can't pay, Musetta gets the waiter to put both the bills together and give them to the wealthy gentleman when he returns. Then Musetta and the others leave the café before the gentleman returns. As the opera continues we see how the character's deal with love and loss, and eventually to a tragic ending.
While the story of La Bohéme is beautiful by itself, you still want to have a production that reflects this beautiful story. DMMO has done that through the breathtaking set, the beautiful costumes, and amazing performances that help the audience relate to each character. Each of these elements woven together is a treat the audience and makes this one of my favorite DMMO productions to date.
Robert Little's scenic design does a tremendous job of weaving each of the locations in the show together to tell a cohesive story. The first place we are taken to is the garret that Marcello and Rodolfo share. The massive, yet intimate garret draws the audience into the show. After a short break between act 1 and 2, we see Little's breathtaking Parisian street. Each store or restaurant on the street is so intrinsically detailed. When combined with the costumes from Malabar, LTD, was one of the most breathtaking moments of the evening. The audience in attendance gave a round of applause at the top of Act 2 when these elements appeared together. The third and final location Little takes the audience to is an inn on the outskirts of Paris. The minimal set used in this scene, while detailed, lets the audience focus on the relationships between Rodolfo and Mimi as well as Musetta and Marcello. Each of these sets is weaved together by a beautiful cobblestone floor on the stage.
As with every production they do, DMMO has put together an outstanding cast to take on the characters in this production which includes 9 cast members making their DMMO mainstage debut. Each member of the cast brought something unique to their characters that kept the show entertaining to the audience. As I go over my thoughts on the cast, I'm splitting them into three pairs/couples based on how their characters appear throughout the show onstage.The first pairing is Brian Vu as Schaunard and Timothy J. Bruno as Colline. These two were a comedic force that kept the show moving along, and brought light to the dark times the show takes place. Each time they came onstage I found myself laughing at some point, from Vu's telling of Shaunard's killing of the parrot to Vu and Bruno's mocking of Rodolfo's pining over Mimi, to their final entrance in Act 4. The lightheartedness they brought to their characters was a welcome contrast to the traumatic ending of the show.
We then move to Mané Galoyan portrayal of Musetta and Thomas Glass portrayal of Marcello. I enjoyed that while these characters do bring some comedy to the show, they also get to bring a few of the dramatic elements of the show as well. The teasing Mané brought to Musetta's Waltz made it easy for the audience to see how Marcello has a hard time moving on from his relationship with her. In act 3 during the inn scene, we get to see Galoyan's and Glass' full range as actors when their characters momentarily split up and then end up back together till spring.
The heart ofthe night came from Joshua Guerrero's performance as Rodolfo and Julie Adams performance as Mimi. While I've talked about the other characters in pairs, I feel that these characters deserved to be talked about separately. I'm not sure if it is written into the script or not that Mimi comes across as sick from the beginning of the show or not, but Julie Adams made it clear in her portrayal that Mimi was sick, and what she had was not going to go away. What I do believe were her acting choices, were the moment that she decided to show how truly weak Mimi was. Anyone who has spent time with someone dealing with a chronic disease will recognize those moments and relate.
Here is the only comparison I'm going to make to Rent because I think it speaks to the performance and the opera. In the multiple times I've seen Rent, my least favorite character has always been Rodger. I feel Rodger unjustifiably treats Mimi poorly through the entire show. What I like about Rodolfo in La Bohéme is that we see his journey of falling in love with Mimi, and once he is in love, deal with the impact her sickness will have on their relationship. While he covers up his fear with jealousy, I feel Guerrero gave a performance that showed the fear as he told of his treatment of Mimi, which allowed the audience to feel for his character. Throughout the evening, I found myself drawn to his character and feeling the emotions his character was going through, especially when you could see his heart breaking at the end of the Opera.
From the lavish sets and costumes to the beautiful and heartbreaking performances of the cast, Des Moines Metro Opera's production of La Bohéme is another not to be missed production. Performances are selling out quickly with two of the final 5 performances already sold out. To find out more about this production or to purchase tickets, visit http://desmoinesmetroopera.org/productions/boheme/