This old coat

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Mimi languishes with Rodolfo at her bedside; Musetta waltzes; Colline bids his coat goodbye.
Seattle Opera photos © Elise Bakketun


The music and plot of Puccini's La Bohème are so familiar that it's a little like going to Disneyland with your friends from summer camp. You practically want to hum "It's a Sad World After All."

So the challenge, in Seattle Opera's production, is to offset the on-stage misery; the young artists (writers, painters, singers) may be starving and freezing, but they're determined to get through yet another discontented winter. Spoiler alert: the sweet-natured seamstress Mimi--sung by soprano Elizabeth Caballero--doesn't make it to April, despite her friends' frantic, last-minute efforts. The stalwart Arthur Woodley even sells his beloved overcoat to buy medicine, to no avail.

The story of these passionate scamps isn't all about heartbreak, though. Paris in the 1890s was plenty raucous, full of bright colors and brazen sexuality, captured in director Tomer Zvulun's fresh staging (the sets came from St. Louis, the costumes were dusted off from Seattle Opera's 2006 Bohème). The courtesan Musetta, especially--soprano Norah Amselem--revels in being surrounded by a "scent of desire" in her delightful aria, "Quando m'en vo" (which also provided the tune for Della Reese's biggest hit, "Don't You Know," in 1959).

A good thing that the audience knows what's coming. This Bohème doesn't slow down to showcase the opera's big numbers; instead, it showers the audience with musical exclamation points and dramatic sparkles from beginning to end, posting Instagram pix of the Bohemians on the curtain and tweeting hashtag #allaboutmimi. 

Seattle Opera's General Director, Speight Jenkins, is retiring after three decades at the helm of an organization that has seen both lean and happy years. With a surefire winner like La Bohème, a full slate of ten performances performed by two casts, happy times. Especially with a $15 family matinee on March 10th.

This summer, a new Ring cycle will bring Wagner fans from around the world to Seattle. By then, the trustees will have selected Jenkins's successor, but there's not enough money left for his going-away party. Plans for a new production of Meistersinger have been scrapped, and upcoming seasons will be cut back from five to four productions.

One could ask whether there's a future for regional opera companies at all, given that New York's Metropolitan Opera now broadcasts every one of its operas, live-in-HD, into movie theaters around the country. But that really would be a sad, sad world.

A street photographer captures the Bohemian friends at a Paris café on Christmas Eve

Seattle Opera presents Puccini's La Bohème, through March 10th at McCaw Hall. Tickets online (at www.seattleopera.org) and at the box office, 321 Mercer St., 206-389-7676. 

And, if you can stand a footnote: a glowing review in The Stranger by another one of the Seattle Holdens.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on February 26, 2013 8:30 AM.

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