BWW Reviews: Washington National Opera Crafts Gorgeous Production of Puccini's LA BOHÈME

BWW Reviews: Washington National Opera Crafts Gorgeous Production of Puccini's LA BOHÈME

There is an inherent challenge and consideration when putting on classical works that modern audiences will not be able to connect to them. The themes could be too antiquated, the historical context could be lost, or audience members could simply not understand the language. Such is not the case with the Washington National Opera's current production of LA BOHÈME. In fact, with our universal underlying concerns of time, money and following our hearts, this production is rather aptly timed. And if that isn't enough, the design elements of this production and its settings will grab you from the start.

I must provide a disclaimer and state my limited exposure to the opera. Having come from the musical theater realm, this will not be a typical review for those who claim to have seen better sopranos, heard better orchestrations, or to have seen better settings. However, in order for this medium to continue and be successful, it has to draw in those like me and my date for the evening, who just don't go often. Thus, I will do my best to appease all sides.

For those who know LA BOHÈME as the basis for RENT, the plotline is about the same. Poet Rodolfo (SAIMIR PIRGU) falls in love with the frail seamstress Mimi (CORINNE WINTERS) after she comes to his flat in search of a light for her candle. Meanwhile, his friend and roommate Marcello (JOHN CHEST) fights heartbreak and lingering feelings for the vivacious Musetta (ALYSON CAMBRIDGE), who simply enjoys messing with him. Rodolfo and Marcello form a merry band of Bohemian brothers with philosopher Colline (JOSHUA BLOOM) and musician Schaunard (STEVEN LABRIE), who all struggle to pay bills and find their own way in their artistic pursuits.

Puccini's music is beautiful. The soaring melodies of solo songs are captivating, and the limited chorus numbers are bouncy. Group numbers, while slightly difficult to understand as multiple characters are singing, are balanced well and highlight each member involved as best they can be translated. It is easy to get lost in the music and forget to look up at the translations above the stage, especially with this group of voices, and that is what you are meant to do. Winters' Mimi is ethereal and sweet, as her character clings to new life while hers is fading away. Pirgu's Rodolfo is aggressive and sweeping, carrying the role's poetic drama with gravitas. Cambridge makes Musetta both silly and sensitive, demonstrating a wide range in the role. Chest seemed to have a wonderful time as Marcello, letting him be both boisterous and defeated. I must applaud him for successfully singing while straddling a ladder, since I was concerned a particularly large breath would send him tumbling downward.

It is also easy to get lost in the artistic design surrounding the performers. Costume Designer Jennifer Moeller blends the dark greys, purples, and browns in a spectacular way, capturing stark differences between those with money, those without, and those in service. They are cohesive, beautiful and appropriate.

Set Designer Lee Savage gives sweeping sets which change with fluid ease: a dingy artists loft, a glitzy Paris street half occupied by Café Momus and its lit sign, and the woods outside a tavern. These pieces combined with Lighting Designer Bruno Poet's exquisite use of shadows and contrast led the audience to applause several times. At the end of many songs and scenes, it was as if you could freeze the moments into tableaus, and look at it for far longer than the duration of the production. There were also transitions which made us all wonder "how did they do that?"

As previously stated, this is a production that can resonate with everyone. Artistic patrons will marvel at the background, lighting and sheer grandeur. Those who love musical theatre (RENT or otherwise) will see what is the basis for the majority of what they listen to, and those who struggle will find common ground with the sweeping voices before them. Go to the Washington National Opera, and experience the magic, love and art that is LA BOHÈME.

LA BOHÈME continues at The Kennedy Center Opera House through November 15th. Please note that there are two casts - for those who wish to see a certain performer, the lists and ticket information can be found on the production page. Photo credit:

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From This Author Heather Nadolny

Heather Nadolny is a DC-based singer, actress, writer, and storyteller. A Memphis native and Chicago transplant, she is a regular performer and guest co-host at (read more...)

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