Quote of the Day: In you, I see the Dreams that I have always dreamed/longed for. sung by the character Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème

Carissa Bussian as Mimi and Tony Potts as Marcello in La Boheme at Theater Latte’ Da. Photo: Dan Norman

My friend Joanna and I experienced a lovely performance of La Bohème at Theater Latté Da this past Sunday. Originally scheduled to play in March of 2020, the show performed a couple previews, and closed before it’s official opening night. I had tickets for that Sunday and had planned to see it with my son Zach, who is studying opera, now in Seattle, WA. He saw a production of it in Seattle this fall, and I finally got to see it at Theater Latté Da. Director Peter Rothstein set this beloved opera on a smaller stage than many have previously done, and created an intimate atmosphere that felt immersive. With the five musicians on stage (to the side and some slightly hidden behind the set), under the excellent direction of Sonja Thompson, the music filled the room without overpowering the singers, who did not need mics to fill that space. Joseph Schlefke gave the score new orchestration, adding guitar and accordion, creating a feeling of being on the streets of Paris and hearing the music waft out of bistros and float off the fingers of buskers. 

La Bohème is one of the most accessible operas you could attend, especially at Theater Latté Da. If you’ve never attended an opera before, this is a good place to start. It runs about two hours, with intermission. The characters are relatable, a group of starving artists trying to make their mark on the world, struggling to pay the rent and heat their crummy, little apartment. The set-up is charming. Rodolpho (David Walton) begins by typing, ripping out his pages in frustration, and tossing them on the floor. Marcello (Tony Potts) dashes his paintbrush across a canvas, trying to coax out an impressive image. They sing together of their frustrations, and lack of creature comforts, until a couple more buddies, Colline (Rodolfo Nieto) and Schaunard (Justin Anthony Spenner) walk in and convince them that they need to go down to Café Momus for a glass of vino. But, before they can leave, the landlord (Bradley Greenwald) shows up to remind them to pay the rent. Rodolfo stays behind to finish a scene in his manuscript. He hears a knock at the door. The beautiful woman in a nearby apartment needs his help. Mimi (Corissa Bussian) is in distress. The power has been shut off, and her candle is out. Somehow Rodolfo’s candle is also extinguished, and the two crawl around in the dark searching for her key. Through all that searching, crawling, groping, and singing, they fall in love, naturally. 

Katherine Henly as Musetta in La Boheme at Theater Latte’ Da. Photo: Dan Norman

In Act II, Rodolfo and Mimi join his friends at Café Momas. They’re having a wonderful time, drinking wine and giving the waiter (also Bradley Greenwald) a hard time. It’s fun, light, and funny. Street vendors come out to sell their wares. A beautiful, seductive woman, Musetta (Katherine Henly) catches Marcello’s eye. She uses all her charms, and flower throwing skills, to get his attention, and he’s smitten. 

Puccini wrote this opera in 1896, based on a novel by Henri Murger set in the 1830’s. Rothstein brings the setting into a more relatable era, Nazi occupied Paris in the late 1930’s-1940’s. While the first half of the opera is light, showing us young artists trying to find their way and falling in love, a dark shadow hovers at the end of the café scene when a young boy with a fake Hitler mustache gives the Nazi salute, and the lights go out for intermission.

When we return to the story at the top of the second half, the mood has changed. Soldiers stop the vendors and demand to know what they’re carrying. The streets are quiet, and the people gather in pubs, out of sight. Mimi is sick. Here’s where the emotions are thick, and we realize that we care about these characters. The music in the second half is hauntingly familiar. The arias reach in and grab hold of your heart. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking. 

Tony Potts as Marcello and Katherine Henly as Musetta in La Boheme at Theater Latte’ Da. Photo: Dan Norman

I stayed for the post-show conversation. Actors Rodolfo Nieto and Bradley Greenwald masked up and came out to talk to us. They answered questions about what changed in the production from the original cast, crew, set and staging from the 2020 production to the one they are able to do now in 2022. A few members of the cast and crew are new to the production, including Music Director/Pianist Sonja Thompson. The set that Michael Hoover designed and built in 2020 stayed where it was until they could perform again. The street vendors were originally going to come through the aisles to “sell” us their wares, but remained on stage for Covid protocols. And, of course, so many more health safety protocols are in place. Several audience members praised the staff for these measures, and thanked them for helping them feel safe about returning to live theater. 

This production of La Bohème is charming, intimate, and engaging. All of the singers have gorgeous voices and convey every nuance of this famous opera. They sing in Italian with English translation projected above. Often, I found myself glancing at the English supertitles, then focusing back on the performers, their gorgeous voices, and how they portrayed the meaning through their fine acting and facial expressions. If you’re starting to venture back out into the world and attend live theater, La Bohème at Theater Latté Da is a great place to start. Go, and let the music and emotions wash over you. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What were (or are) you doing in your early 20’s?