The School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of the opera La Bohème was certainly a treat. Featuring the University Opera Theatre and the University Symphony Orchestra, it was a chance to go to the opera without leaving campus!
Though La Bohème was first performed in 1896 (the music is by composer Giacomo Puccini, and the libretto, or words, is by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica), this performance was set in the post-war era. This allowed for more modern costuming and set design, and in my opinion, it also made the entire storyline seem more relatable, as the characters were not in the distant past. The addition of English captions over the stage was also a welcome addition, since the entire opera is in Italian (which, unfortunately, I am not fluent in).
If you know the musical Rent, the plot of La Bohème will be familiar, as the musical is a modern adaptation of the opera. However, though the storyline contains themes of youth, romance, poverty, and realities of the “Bohemian” existence, the plot seemed rather underdeveloped to me. In particular, the ending seemed abrupt, and I would have liked more closure (though perhaps this serves to further the opera’s themes).
That said, the simplicity of the plot allows the opera’s music to shine through. The University Symphony Orchestra performed the score spectacularly, and the leads and the chorus were also wonderful. I enjoyed the fact that the design of the Power Center allows the orchestra to be largely visible, rather than hidden under the stage. Sometimes, however, this was to my detriment, as I was watching the orchestra and listening to the music rather than watching the on-stage action and reading the captions!
In the area of set design, the opera production was also stunning. There was a short intermission between each of the opera’s four acts to allow time for elaborate set changes, and they were certainly worth the wait. I can only imagine the time and effort that goes into designing and constructing the sets. My personal favorite was the set for Act II, which took place in Paris’s Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve. Featuring a nearly full-scale two-story building façade, streetlamps, and Christmas wreaths and garlands, it was a work of art. On a separate note, this scene also featured members of the University of Michigan Marching Band, as well as the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale! I also enjoyed the set for Act III, which featured falling snow and a moving train.
The School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of La Bohème was an excellent opportunity to see a high-quality performance right here in Ann Arbor, and I am glad that I had the chance to attend!