Review: Art Imitates Life in LA BOHEME at Opera Philadelphia

By: Apr. 28, 2019
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Review: Art Imitates Life in LA BOHEME at Opera Philadelphia
Photo by Steven Pisano

In front of projections of impressionist art and a set reminiscent of a still life painting, a simple story of romance, loss, poverty, and creation plays out. Opera Philadelphia's re-imagining of La Boheme takes the classic tale to a new level.

The Puccini opera is set around the lives of two starving artists, Rodolfo and Marcello, their creative friends, Colline and Schaunard, and the loves of their lives, Mimi and Musetta. The story is simple -- Rodolfo and Marcella are struggling to pay rent, but find life fulfillment through art and love.

Though the tale is as old as time, Opera Philadelphia's production holds deeper though about the quality of art in all its mediums through production design. In each scene, the background is lit by canvases of art by Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, and other impressionist artists. It echoes the obvious connection - the main characters are artists, but it also makes the audience think: does art really imitate life?

In La Boheme, the scene art mirrors the performer's every movements. The colors in certain paintings match that of the casts' costumes and the set's furniture. Though in the background it's just a painting, it brings the audience into the eyes of the artist. Van Gogh's Starry Night is no longer just some oils on a canvas, it's the depiction of a lively evening in Paris, where the characters reside. His Sunflowers is not just a painting of a vase, it's a nod to the first flowers Mimi gave Marcello.

This use of scene design brings a new layer of depth to an already classic opera. The story artfully depicts the universal experience and the art displayed on stage mimics a memory or feeling they had while going through these life moments.

Like art, the evocation of feeling cannot be the only deciding factor of quality for opera -- talent and technique also play a role. Each cast member hits all the right notes (literally and figuratively), and is especially charming in their respective roles.

Review: Art Imitates Life in LA BOHEME at Opera Philadelphia
Ashley Marie Robillard as Musetta
Photo by Steven Pisano

Ashley Marie Robillard, who plays Marcello's lover Musetta, perfectly masters portraying a very flawed character who must also be very likeable. Robillard is funny, and wins over the audience with her performance in Act II, when Musetta tries to make Marcello jealous with her new, wealthy, older suitor. She manages to pull color into her soprano in every line, making her voice sound as pretty as you'd expect at an opera while mixing in some robust sounds and emotions.

But most of the standout roles in this performance have less stage time. Kevin Burdette, who plays Musetta's suitor Alcindoro and Marcello and Rodolfo's landlord, Benoit, is hilarious and a wonderful bass. Though he only appears in the first and second acts, he lights up the stage every time he appears. Will Liverman, the musician Schaunard, stuns with his minor solo lines and somehow brings depth and realness to this static character.

The supporting Philadelphia Boys and Girls Choir and Opera Philadelphia Chorus also shine. Their inclusion, as well as acrobats, fire twirlers, and clowns give the audience the full, traditional opera experience.

Opera Philadelphia's La Boheme is a true homage to the classic, and still innovates in a way that enhances rather than twists its original meaning.

The opera runs until May 5, and tickets can be purchased HERE.


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