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Famous opera arrives in South Bend

Jonathan Retartha | Tuesday, February 10, 2004

“The greatest love story ever sung” comes to The Morris Performing Arts Center tonight as the Opera Verdi Europa presents Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera, “La Bohème.” The opera, presented with subtitles, tells the story of Mimi and Rodolfo, two lovers who face poverty and death in the midst of their romance. The opera takes place in Paris, around the year 1830. Rodolfo and his impoverished bohemian friends are living in a small garret in the Latin Quarter when Mimi, Rodolfo’s neighbor, stops by to ask for a light for her candle. When she drops her key in the room, the ensuing search leaves them both sitting on the floor in the moonlight telling their dreams to each other. Rodolfo dreams of writing and Mimi dreams of the coming spring. The two fall in love and join Rodolfo’s friends at the Café Momus. There, Rodolfo’s friend, Alcindoro, reignites his relationship with his former lover, Musetta. Musetta and Alcindoro move to a tavern on the outskirts of Paris, and Mimi arrives at their house on a snowy morning in a panic. She describes to Alcindoro Rodolfo’s jealousy and decides that she must separate from him.When she hears Rodolfo coming, she hides, and Rodolfo then describes Mimi’s fickleness and the sad revelation that Mimi is dying. Because he does not want Mimi to worsen simply because of their poverty, he, too, desires that they separate. They finally discover each other at the tavern, and after describing memories of their past love, they decide to remain together until spring. What follows is a beautiful account of the power that love has over everything, seemingly, but death itself.”La Bohème” was written by Giacomo Puccini, who, after studying at the Milan Conservatory from 1880-83, went on to write such operas as “Le Villi,” “Edgar,” “Madame Butterfly,” “La Rondine,” and “Il Tabarro.” “La Bohème” was written in 1896, and like many classic works of art, was originally harshly criticized at its premier in Turin. However, it has stood the test of time and has become a definitive work of opera.The appeal of the opera’s simple story and beautiful lyrics and melodies even inspired master filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, of such screen hits as Moulin Rouge and William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, to develop a version of the opera for Broadway. Luhrmann changed the setting to 1950s Paris to better adapt the opera for a modern Broadway audience. The show played to moderate box office success, even in the huge Broadway downturn after 9/11, and garnered several Tony Award nominations.The Morris’s production of “La Bohème” is staged by the Opera Verdi Europa, a Bulgarian opera company. The company was established by Ivan Kyurkchiev in 1996 and has been involved with many opera houses from all over Russia and Eastern Europe. They gained international fame from their productions of other famous operas such as “Carmen,” “La Traviata,” and “Rigoletto.” What makes the company unique is their combination of all of the major Bulgarian opera houses into their performances. They have also worked with opera houses in Romania, Hungary, Moldavia and Ukraine. The company performs over 70 times a year, and this is their first tour in the United States.”La Bohème” has become such a lasting presence in the world of performing arts because of the emotion displayed through Puccini’s words and lyrics. Many view opera as being something distant; a form of art only accessible to the wealthy sitting up in boxes wearing tuxedos and sporting those tiny binoculars. This aloof image is augmented by the fact that most operas are not in English, and are therefore even more inaccessible to the average American citizen. Puccini’s opera has succeeded where so many others have failed because it was able to draw such deep emotion from a relatively simple story. Take, for example, the way the religious chords stemming from the Basilica organ fill campus visitors with awe every weekend. Visitors are amazed, even if they do not know the words or the language of the words. Puccini was able to associate music with emotion, and the climactic death scene is able to bring forth tears from people who have never learned a page of Italian in their lives. Therefore, it is the simple story in combination with the emotional music that has been able to give “La Bohème” such staying power. It truly is accessible to all people.