Four friends — Rodolfo, a young poet; Marcello, a painter; Schaunars, a musician; and Colline, a philosopher — live in abject poverty, in the Latin quarter of Paris. Despite the lack of money, they pursue their creative dream at the cost of comfort. But love cannot function on idealism alone. One needs money to pay the bills. As tragedy strikes, each must choose what they value more: their passion, or stability.
That’s the premise of La Bohème, a landmark 19th century Italian opera, by Giacomo Puccini, a pioneering composer who influenced a shift in the focus of the opera, from mythological and god-oriented stories to everyday human stories of love, loss and joy. La Bohème was Puccini’s first work in this direction, and one of the most-performed operas in the world.
Nearly 120 years since it premiered in Turin, Italy, in 1897, the opera is set to premiere in Mumbai. It will be conducted by Carlo Rizzi (56), a noted exponent of Puccini’s style of opera, who has been conducting La Bohème for the last two decades.
It’s 1.30pm on a Tuesday when we get Rizzi on a WhatsApp call. He answers promptly, a baritone greets us. “Good evening… or good afternoon. I don’t know what time it is in India,” he says in a thick Italian accent.
Rizzi is in New York, where he has been conducting La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera House. He is now set to collaborate with the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) — the first and only professional chamber orchestra in India — for La Bohème.
“I have never been to India, or met any members of the SOI. So far, I have corresponded with Zane [Dalal, music director, SOI] over email. The rehearsals and set design will only begin when I reach Mumbai,” he says.
Given the short preparation time, the production will be slightly different from the original play. La Bohème Revisited — that’s what this version is called — retains the four musical acts. But as the play sees nearly 200 singers on stage, Rizzi says they have cancelled the additional chorus required for the musical numbers.
Instead, the opera will be followed by the reading of the original text by French novelist Henri Murger, that inspired Puccini to write and compose La Bohème. “Audiences have always seen the final product on stage. This way, we get to show them how a text is converted into a musical theatre,” says Rizzi.
What’s most remarkable, however, is the continued relevance of a story set in the 1800s. Rizzi says it’s because the theme of human emotions runs through the story. “Everyone has partied with their friends, fallen in and out of love, suffered illness and loss. At its core, that’s what La Bohème is about too — the stories of common people. One need not know opera to understand that,” says Rizzi.
Be there: La Boheme will be staged on February 8, 9 and 11, at 7pm
Where: Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point; Call: 6622 3737
Tickets: Rs 400 onward on bookmyshow.com