A tale of young artists, pursuing their creative dreams, consumed by love, loss, heartache, jealousy – and oh yes, typically lacking the rent money. How contemporary! The seeds of an upcoming TV "dramedy," perhaps?
We open on roommates Rodolfo and Marcello, one a poet, the other a painter. It's Christmas Eve in 19th century Paris on a night so cold they're burning one of Rodolfo's manuscripts to heat up their freezing apartment. After Marcello and two other roommates head out to the famed city's Latin Quarter, leaving Rodolfo behind, neighbor Mimi comes knocking. Seems her candle has blown out and she's seeking help to relight it. Soon, Mimi and Rodolfo are falling in love over the moonlit duet "O soave fanciulla" (Oh lovely girl).
And we're off.
Sorry to disappoint, but it's not television. Not even HBO. Would you believe...live opera? And if so, it could only be Puccini's iconic La Bohème. Ahhh...The Bohemians... entertaining us since '96. That's 1896, when a young Arturo Toscanini conducted the world premiere in Italy.
There's a reason for this show's popularity and longevity: "It's extremely accessible for the audience," says Jason Stein, who not only plays Rodolfo, but also serves as executive director of OperaBend, the theater company behind the upcoming tour. "It's really a perfect first opera for those folks who have never seen one."
He's right, of course. No kings and queens chewing up the aristocratic scenery here. It's little wonder playwright Jonathan Larson updated these characters to create the Broadway sensation "Rent" a century later. These are not gods and goddesses who dominate life. It's quite the opposite; everyday people battling ordinary dilemmas, and sometimes suffering the resulting tragedies.
That's part of what draws audiences in. You don't need a crash course in French or Italian history to bond with Rodolfo and Mimi. "Really nothing is necessary to prepare for watching La Bohème," Stein says. "The opera is sung in Italian, but there will be English supertitles so everyone will be able to follow the story. If you want to watch your own DVD copy beforehand, that wouldn't hurt, but it's certainly not necessary."
Stein, who co-founded OperaBend with Artistic Director Nancy Engebretson, fell in love with opera in his early 20s. "I was studying voice and my voice was leading me into a higher, louder, more challenging repertoire. When I started singing opera arias I was in my element and I knew that it's what I wanted to do. So, I followed my voice and ever since then have been involved in singing and producing opera."
Of the two, you could probably guess his true passion. "I definitely enjoy performing more than I do producing." In fact, Stein says, he looks at performing as the "reward" for his offstage work. And why not? It's been a dream role for him and a generation of others as well. "This is one of Puccini's best operas, with lush melodic music, one that every opera singer wants to perform. It's also extremely popular with operagoers."
OperaBend Presents La Bohème
Ridgeview Performing Arts Center
Friday, March 10, 7pm and Saturday, March 11, 3pm
4555 SW Elkhorn Ave, Redmond
$15 - 35
Madras Performing Arts Center
Sunday, March 12, 3pm
412 Buff St., Madras
$5 - 15