Opera is truly a timeless art. As I sat watching Mimi die and listening to Rodolfo’s heartbreaking sobs in ensemble with the orchestra’s lament, the late nineteenth century opera La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini was as real and relevant to life and being today as any episode of Sewende Laan.
La Bohème premiered in 1896 and remains one of the most popular and frequently performed operas. It gives the audience a glimpse of life in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s and tells the story of a group of young bohemians trying to make ends meet. As the curtain drew
Michael Mitchell’s rustic frames of the Left Bank transported the audience to a wintery post-war Paris. As the snowflakes twirled in the background the audience was drawn in by the convincing performance of the characters and Puccini’s effective use of musical devices to underscore the libretto.
Rodolfo (a writer), masterly sung and interpreted by Given Nkosi, and Nozuko Teto as Mimi (a seamstress) are the main protagonists in this story of love and woe. Their tale of love, jealousy, disillusionment and reunion is highlighted by the (equally) turbulent relationship of their friends Marcello (Owen Metsileng) and Musetta (Siphamandla Yakupa), philosopher Colline (Xolela Sixaba), and musician Schaunard (Amos Nomnabo).
At times, the orchestra overpowered the soloists but the audience was never left wanting for the magic of Puccini’s arias. The duet between Rodolfo and Mimi, O soave fanciulla (Oh gentle maiden) at the end of the first act was delicate and enthralling. Some members of the audience responded by clapping eagerly even before the conclusion of the duet while others shushed them trying to savour the moment a bit longer.
Special mention must also be made of the comic episodes in this opera. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Monde Masimini as the landlord Benoît and as Alcindoro, an admirer of Musetta. Marcello’s dance moves in Act IV were equally entertaining, and should Owen Metsileng ever consider a career change, then dancing might be an option! And as expected, Siphamandla Yakupa did a splendid job of bringing us a coquettish and capricious Musetta.
The audience easily related to this nineteenth century tale of real people with real emotions and real problems. Mimi dying in the bohemian surroundings of an artist’s flat in Paris can easily be translated to the tragic death of a young South African in the poor surroundings of a township and in the company of her friends. I certainly agree with George Marek: ‘Opera does not call so much for an imaginative ear as for an imaginative eye, an eye which can see beyond little absurdities toward great truths’.
Andra le Roux-Kemp
La Bohème by Cape Town Opera at the Artscape Opera House on 5, 9, 11 and 16 May 2012.