by Elizabeth Ann Foster
Giacomo Puccini’s music is the Led Zeppelin of 1896. Ubiquitous, innovative, imaginative, forward-thinking, and fun – but I ramble on.
Taking several newbies to The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in New York was fascinating and heartwarming as I witnessed their almost instantaneous psychic connection to an operatic multimedia extravaganza with its story, music, drama, characters, settings, costumes, orchestra, and amazing choric artistes extraordinaire – the singers.
Immediately it registered to me that La Bohéme is the basis of the Broadway production Rent. The garret with its poets, dreams, love, and tragedy, are all juxtaposed in a city where struggling young artists live.
I have only walked out on three Broadway or West End productions in my life – Rent being one. Overwhelming, scary, unfiltered, and vulgar for my tender age at the time, it was – rough. I tend to somatize intense emotions along with internalizing experiences and sensations. It was bewildering that such a moving, funny rendition of this love story of young artists in Paris in one of the world’s most popular operas could trigger such emotions.
No one walked out.
Every performance at the Metropolitan Opera is magnificently intimidating. That is a given. Few sit through a performance unimpressed. Consider also that singers perform without the support of microphones. I imagine the vocal power of a trained operatic soprano, basso, or anything in between in a small recital hall expressing only subtle, adoring prose. The auto-da-fé scene from Verdi’s Don Carlo performed in a small space would be glorious but frightening!
It is a formal affair – many people are dressed in their Sunday, country club best. It was odd to overhear at intermission some individuals wax and wane about notes missed. This seemed pseudo-intellectual, petty, or just innocent banter, depending on one’s perspective, and while I do not wish to disparage fellow patrons, I wonder if they have considered a broader view; that performance is a live event, a complex ephemeral experience created by superb artists of integrity.
La Bohéme is for everyone. Its appeal is universal. Set in beautiful Paris, it is visceral, romantic, sad, lovestruck, fun, and more – all rolled into one.
Be sure to reserve seating at the Grande Tier restaurant for marvelous dining and drink. You can enjoy both dinner and your intermission dessert in style. Don’t let your uninformed guest quaff down their crème brûlée before the opening curtain –it is a delightful respite to return to your table to savor an aperitif and dessert after the superb first installment of a production. I recommend the salmon that is smoked in-house, a rare offering. If the Grande Tier is fully booked, the salmon is available in the lounge on pumpernickel bread – there’s also a high tea style for $20 a serving. The queue is long, and you are nose to nose with fellow operatic enthusiasts vying for real estate to stand in the small, quarantined area.
La Bohéme, music by Giacomo Puccini Librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Conductor Eun Sun Kim, with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
With Quinn Kelsey (Marcello), Aleksandra Kurzak (Musetta), Matthew Polenzani (Rodolfo), Jonathan Scott (Customhouse Sergeant), Nicolas Testé (Colline), Ned Hanlon (Customhouse Officer), Iurii Samoilov DEBUT (Schaunard), Donald Maxwell (Benoit/ Alcindoro), Eleonora Buratto (Mimi), Gregory Warren (Parpignol).
The Metropolitan Opera 2021-2022 season. The 1,356th Metropolitan Opera performance of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohéme. See our other opera reviews here.
The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center
30 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023 (212) 362-6000