Friday, February 27, 2009

La boheme

I’m a fan of opera. Not because I understand classical music. Not because I have a good ear—just the opposite. It’s because it’s the perfect entertainment for our fast-paced digital age. I get bored at the symphony and I can barely sit through most movies, but I find opera absolutely captivating.

There’s just so much going on. There is a full orchestra, costumes, staging and, of course, beautiful singing. It’s the perfect entertainment for an age in which nobody has more than a five-minute attention span.

The Dallas Opera’s production of La boheme by Puccini that I attended last weekend is a great example. In addition to all of the above, there was a children’s chorus, clowns, a marching band—and I’ve probably forgotten something. Every time you blinked something new was going on.

The plot is (like most operas) simple. A group of four male friends, a poet, a painter, a philosopher and a musician live together in a Paris flat—as exuberantly as current graduate students. One, Rodolfo, meets his true love Mimi. Mimi is poor, beautiful and true at heart. Another, Marcello, pairs up with Musetta, a flirt always demanding to be the center of attention. The course of love never runs smoothly, so the lovers all part. Then, in the final act, a dying Mimi returns to Rudolfo and in spite of all that he and the other friends, including Musetta, can do, she dies.

It was energetic and hilarious, sentimental and tragic by turns. It probably didn’t hurt that the male lead, James Valenti playing Rodolfo, was a real heart throb. [picture can be found at this link:]. Wonderful entertainment, which was well-received by the audience.

But even then it wasn’t pure entertainment. Rodolfo chases Mimi away because the poor living conditions in their flat are making her consumption worse. He can’t stand her coughing and worries that she will die. She leaves and finds a wealthier man, but dying returns to Rodolfo, her true love.

Even watching a more than 100 year old opera, I can’t escape the urgency of providing decent, affordable housing—with decent housing maybe Mimi would never have left Rodolfo and would not have died so young.

By the way, the singing was amazing.

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