Giacomo Puccini and Ruggiero Leoncavallo both wrote operas based on Henri Murger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, but their operas are very different. Not only does each tell different parts of Murger’s wide ranging Scènes, Puccini and his librettists, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, changed much of the story. For one thing, they made Mimì more faithful to Rodolfo, and thus much more acceptable to a bourgeois audience. The distribution of voices is also quite different. In the Puccini Mimì and Musetta are sopranos; Rodolfo is a tenor and Marcello a baritone. In the Leoncavallo, Mimì is a soprano, Musetta a mezzo, Rodolfo a baritone, and Marcello a tenor.
The Puccini opera starts with the men in their garret, but Leoncavallo puts the whole group in the Café Momus where they attempt to “dine and dash” because they have no money. His Act II opens on the repossession of Musetta’s property because her ex-lover is refusing to pay her debts. By Act III, Musetta, who had again taken up with Marcello, is leaving him because she is tired of poverty. She knows that Mimì is living with a nobleman and she hopes to do that too. Mimì returns to Rodolfo in the final act, but she is very ill. She dies as the bells chime for Christmas day. Although it might be fun to see the Leoncavallo opera someday, it is easy to see why Puccini’s story, even without his exquisite music, makes it the more popular work.
On January 25, 2014, Arizona Opera presented Candace Evans's production of Puccini’s La bohème with exciting young artists Zach Borichevsky and Corinne Winters as a romantic Rodolfo and his charming but not-so-innocent Mimì. Evans gave us a realistic interpretation of the libretto staged on sets by Peter Dean Beck. The first and fourth acts took place in a frigid attic room that radiated its cold out into the audience. A dual level set provided adequate space for the joyous outdoor Christmas Eve scene that formed the opera’s second act. It was a perfect background for Andrea Shokery’s grand entrance as the flirtatious Musetta. She sang her coquettish waltz song with dulcet tones, all the time trying to rekindle the interest her old lover, Marcello. When her shoe began to pinch her foot, she asked her escort, Alcindoro, to help her remove it. As he pulled off the shoe she pulled up her several skirts, to his embarrassment and the amusement of the audience.
As Marcello, baritone Daniel Teadt still loved her despite her acerbic personality, and he was happy to take her into his arms. Puccini never gave the lovesick Marcello an aria but Teadt had some beautifully lyric moments in Act III. Chris Carr was a gregarious Schaunard and Thomas Hammons made the most of his two character roles, Benoit, the ineffectual landlord, and Alcindoro, the old dandy who gave up a great deal of dignity to have a beautiful young woman on his arm. Young artist program member Calvin Griffin acquitted himself well as the intellectual Colline. Together, these artists evoked great depth of emotion with their ability to color their tones and act with their voices. Although the story of this opera is sad, Henri Venanzi’s choristers made the second act a pleasant interlude in Mimì’s inevitable decline. At the end, Rodolfo was the last to realize she has died, but when he finally did it was heartbreaking. Joel Revzen led the Arizona Opera Orchestra in a lucid reading of the score that brought out to poignancy of the story. This was a fine performance of the Puccini masterwork and the exquisite playing of the orchestra was a large part of it.
Cast and production information:
Rodolfo, Zach Borichevsky; Mimì. Corinne Winters; Musetta, Andrea Shokery; Marcello, Daniel Teadt; Collie, Calvin Griffin; Schaunard, Chris Carr; Benoit/Alcindoro, Thomas Hammons; Parpignol, Dennis Tamblyn; Conductor, Joel Revzen; Director Candace Evans; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Scenic Designer, Peter Dean Beck; Costumes, A. T, Jones and Sons; Lighting, Douglas Provost.