Review: LA BOHÈME at MN Opera

Running thru May 19, 2024

By: May. 05, 2024
Review: LA BOHÈME at MN Opera
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Giacomo Puccini’s triumphant opera, La bohème has finally returned to the MN Opera in a beautifully staged production that draws its focus from the words being sung and less from the visuals, as amazing as they are.

Puccini’s opera tells the story of a young woman’s search for a candle light’s light, on a bitterly cold night in the heart of Paris, which fatefully sparks one of the most enduring love stories of all time. But can that love be sustained? Mimì, Rodolfo, and their bohemian friends must navigate their feelings as they find levity and joy amidst the hardship and struggle of a life in pursuit of art. 

With a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, La bohème is a gorgeous story that transcends language and time. It is a story that has happened many times before and will certainly happen again, which is why it has endured for over 128 years.

Perhaps one of the most palatable operas for newcomers, La boheme is a great introduction to the media because many people in the general public may be familiar with the story already, as it was famously the inspiration for Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking rock musical, RENT. While the story will be familiar to that crowd, it is recommended to read the full synopsis that is provided in the playbill. Although the events are similar, it proved a very helpful resource to become acquainted with the series of events that the inspiration follows.

Providing the emotional meat of the production is a cast that can only be described as opera royalty. Won Whi Choi, who has become a legend for his portrayal, leads the production as the ambitious poet, Rodolfo. A man who just can’t seem to get over a stint of writer’s block until he meets the doomed, Mimi. Choi’s vocals are beyond remarkable, they are stratospheric. His ability to convert such emotion, whether it is through elation that they were able to start a fire for heat or breaking your heart while he is belting with such ease, it is an experience that is truly something to behold.

Matching Choi note for note is the incomparable Melinda Whittington as Mimi, the tragically doomed heroine of the story. Whittington’s vocals are so rich and full that she has no problem filling the theater with her glorious voice. Bringing the raw emotion of Mimi’s tragedy to the forefront of her performance makes the heartbreak that the audience feels even more poignant. When she and Choi bring their voices together, there is not an ear in the place that is not glued to them. They are magnetic in every sense of the word, giving the audience cause to celebrate their highs and mourn their lows throughout the production.

Review: LA BOHÈME at MN Opera

While singling out Choi and Whittington seemed important, the rest of the cast is beyond exquisite. It is a cliche to say that there was not a weak link but sometimes, as in this instance, it rings true.

An additional star of the production is the orchestra, under the brilliant direction of Christopher Franklin. Pucci wrote a breathtaking score and the MN Opera Orchestra doesn’t take that for granted. They have breathed new life into the music which fills the hall with such grandeur that at times the lyrics seemed to melt away and we were left with just the gorgeous music underneath.

Although the main attraction of La boheme is the music, the MN Opera has given the audience a set and lighting design that are both simple and, at times,  wildly beautiful. Utilizing metal arches that seem to be inspired by the Eiffel Tower, the audience is transported to the Latin Quarter of Paris in a nondescript time. Instead of moving set pieces, scenic designer, takis, has given the audience confined spaces on the stage to focus our attention. While the stage is a massive space, there is never an instance where the audience is lead to believe they are wasting any of it. It feels right having intimate spaces for the characters to reside because after all, Paris may be a giant city but it’s individual inhabitants only occupy a small amount of it.

Breaking from this motif for a short while is the moment when the cast visits a local haunt where, in splendid fashion, the set all but comes alive and transforms before the audience’s eyes. An exceptional moment for sure.

Review: LA BOHÈME at MN Opera Pairing with the well-conceived set design is lighting designer, D.M. Wood’s masterful work. Her artistry comes alive most when she utilized juxtaposing designs. An example being her Act III designs where our characters meet outside in the ally of a Parisian nightclub. While they are experiencing extreme anguish in the darkened moonlit night, they are covered in falling snow as the party rages on behind them with bright bouncing lights. Wood’s design provides an added layer of heartbreak to the story. As the people we have become endeared to, go through their different stages of grief and uncertainty in a cold and dim world, they’re shadows fall on a wall where, just on the other side, life is magnetic and joyous.

Broken into four acts, La bohème is a beautifully tragic story that has survived the test of time due to its poignant themes, and timelessness. Tackling friendship, financial hardship, new love, and gut-wrenching loss. MN Opera has created a piece of theatrical art that not only looks and sounds glorious, it also reminds us that the only thing that truly matters in life is finding a community of people who will always be there for us, no matter what life throws our way.


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