BWW Review: Pacific Opera Project Presents A Cleverly Modern La bohème AKA “The Hipsters”
Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa, was based on Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger, a collection of vignettes portraying young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s. Since its 1896 world premiere in Turin, Italy, the opera's libretto focusing on the relationship between Rodolfo and Mimì has made La bohème part of the standard Italian opera repertory and is one of the most frequently performed operas worldwide.
Perhaps more well-known to modern-day audiences is the 1993 rock musical RENT with music, lyrics, and book by Jonathan Larson, which is loosely based on Puccini's La bohème. It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life for themselves in Lower Manhattan's East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. There are several extra main characters in RENT with the story centering around Roger, Mimi, Mark, Tom Collins, Angel, Maureen, Joanne, and the building's owner Benny.
For the past 9 years, Pacific Opera Project (POP) has been presenting their own brand of modernized operas to appreciative audiences around Los Angeles, making the classical works more accessible to audiences of all ages. This December, POP closes its 2019 season with five performances of its signature modern take on Puccini's La bohème AKA "The Hipsters" at The Highland Park Ebell Club on December 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, 2019 at 8pm. The opera is sung in Italian with projected "cleverly ironic" English titles, led by Music Director Parisa Zaeri, and directed by POP Artistic Director Josh Shaw.
In the fifth incarnation of POP's trademark production, a new batch of hand-crafted, vegan, organically-sourced hipsters take the stage for what is quickly becoming an annual Los Angeles holiday tradition. In it, Puccini's 19th Century Parisian garret becomes a present-day Highland Park loft apartment in the hills between downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena during a particularly cold SoCal winter. LA's housing crisis comes to life on stage as the artist, poet, philosopher, musician, and seamstress become a graphic designer, screenplay writer, English major, indie-rocker, and fashion designer dealing with the timeless issues of life, love, jealousy, illness, and overdue bills.
So it makes perfect sense for POP to subtitle their production "The Hipsters" since the term refers to a subculture of individuals in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, an appreciation of art, creativity, intelligence and witty banter. They tend to be well educated and have liberal arts degrees, but lack the finances to live anywhere but in the most meager of circumstances.
This time, the superbly talented cast of POP's La bohème AKA "The Hipsters" features Janet Szepei Todd (Mimi), Orson Van Gay (Rodolfo), Maria Dominique Lopez (Musetta), Kenneth Stavert (Marcello), E. Scott Levin (Schaunard), Adam Cioffari (Colline), Robert Norman (Benoit/Alcindoro Dec. 11, 13, 14), and Luvi Avendano (Benoit/Alcindoro Dec. 6, 7). Each performer has the ability to command the stage with their glorious operatic, multi-octave vocals, while their ability to adapt great comedic expressions and movement is used to perfection by director Josh Shaw.
With many entrances made from the back of the house up through the audience, it was easy to feel included as one of the many tenants living in the same, freezing apartment building, although the temperature in the theater was warm and comfortable. The only difficulty I had with the production was trying to watch the action while reading the incredibly funny and very modern lyrics in English on display above the stage, which generated laughs galore.
POP's La bohème: AKA "The Hipsters" performances take place at The Highland Park Ebell Club, located at 131 S. Ave 57 in Los Angeles, 90042, at 8pm on December 6, 7, 11, 13, and 14 only. Tickets: General admission single tickets are $15-30 and tables with a bottle of wine and snacks range from $60 for two people up to $180 for four people. Tickets can be purchased by visiting pacificoperaproject.com or by calling 323-739-6122. This production has sold out every time it has been presented, so be sure to order your tickets ASAP. Link for more production information: https://www.pacificoperaproject.com/hipsters2019
Photos provided by Pacific Opera Project
About Pacific Opera Project
Pacific Opera Project is dedicated to providing quality opera that is innovative, affordable, and entertaining in order to build a broader audience for the art form. For more information, please visit pacificoperaproject.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 323-739-6122.
POP's 2020 season includes:
Gianni Schicchi by Puccini presented with L'enfant et les Sortileges at Occidental College's Thorne Hall, Jan 25, Feb 1, 2.
Cosi fan Tutte by Mozart at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood on March 28, 29, April 2, 4, 5.
Ercole su'l Termodonte by Vivaldi at the Highland Park Ebell Club on July 10, 11, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24.The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan at a location to be announced in September.
Susannah by Carlisle Floyd at the Vortex on Nov 7, 8, 12, 14, .15
And the return of La bohème: AKA "The Hipsters" at the Highland Park Ebell Club on Dec 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19