By Jim Heffernan
Ah “La Boheme.” Such a tragic tale of unfulfilled love. Such pathos. All to the accompaniment of some of the most romantic and stirring music in all of opera.
Bring a hankie to the Duluth Festival Opera’s concert production of Puccini’s grandest opera Thursday (Aug. 20) or Saturday (Aug. 22) in Duluth’s DECC auditorium (both performances at 7:30 p.m.).
But forget the hankie during my favorite part of “La Boheme,” when cast, chorus and orchestra (Duluth-Superior Symphony) all join in one of the most festive parties in all of grand opera.
Bohemians might be huddled in a chilly Paris loft for much of “La Boheme” but there are few more joyous acts in all of grand opera (“all of grand opera” comes up a lot in discussing “La Boheme”) when the young lovers Rudolfo and Mimi join their friends, especially the lovely Musetta, in a street café to toast … well … toast life, and maybe bum a scrap of food from some unwitting benefactor. After all, it’s Christmas eve.
That’s exactly what happens, but as the group toasts and celebrates, out steps the lovely Musetta singing the glorious aria best known as “Musetta’s Waltz.” Even in a concert presentation, it will be hard not to smile from… Well, there’s no other way to say it: Smile from ear to ear.
Smiles are not usually associated with “La Boheme,” but the party scene has always been my favorite because it involves everybody – chorus members, a children’s chorus, the leading singers and an up-volume orchestra. It can’t miss.
I’m a member of the Duluth Festival Opera’s board, so maybe I’m prejudiced, but I don’t think “La Boheme” loses much in a concert performance. It’s the music that wins the day. Besides, half of this opera is set in a drab garret, except for the great party scene and one other.
“La Boheme” is hands down the best opera for people who think they don’t like opera to find out they like it better than they thought. Musetta and her waltz – together with her flirty, devious ways – helps a lot. Go see for yourself. You won’t be sorry, except at the end, when you’ll FEEL sorry for these doomed lovers. That’s where a hanky will be handy.
Plenty of tickets remain for both performances through the DECC or Ticketmaster.