What is it about this story that still touches us? I think it all boils down to the fact that this story makes us believe in love. I know that sounds cheesy, stay with me. I came to Omaha not really liking this opera, if I’m completely honest. I just didn’t get it! I’ve worked on this show before and I’ve been in it twice. (I was the worst Alcindoro ever!)
Even being around this opera so much, I never understood what Puccini was trying to convey. My perception was that it was just a big overblown opera with lots of people, a million props and no real core. Now I get it. These characters are the people we all secretly want to be. They are young vibrant artists who choose poetry, music and art over money and an endless life of adulting. They feel deeply and passionately. They live for art and love. Through the Bohemians, Puccini reminds the audience of the joy and sadness of finding true love and losing it. We are all guilty of shutting ourselves off and enjoying the safety of isolation. We hide behind screens and dating apps, never willing to take the risk of experiencing the type of love portrayed in the opera.
These ideas also captured the imagination of Jonathan Larson 100 years later. He produced a modern retelling of the same story in his musical, RENT. The universality of the story of these bohemians truly experiencing life, love and hardship was still relevant to audiences in 1994 when RENT had its first performance. The Bohemians in the 90s were struggling with HIV and drug addiction instead of tuberculosis of the 1860s, but the portrayal of love is still the same. Both pieces remind audiences that Love is more important than materialism and to live for today because tomorrow is uncertain.
Why do we care? I think because we’ve all personally experienced the situations from the scenes of the opera and we can all identify with one of the different characters. I’ve had terrible breakups like Rodolfo and Mimi and I’ve been destructively in love like Marcello and Musetta. We’ve all had to say goodbye to someone we love before we were ready. This opera is real. This opera is so true to life. This production made me fall in love with this piece for the first time. It makes me want to fall in love again and I think it will have the same effect on you.
Viva la vie Bohème!
~Matthew Haney, Assistant Director, La bohème