What do Peelander Z and The Metropolitan Opera’s current production of La Boheme have in common?
Not much I suspect, other than yours truly. Two weekends ago I saw The Z and this past Sunday saw The Met.
Was anybody else at both shows?
I didn’t think so.
I confess I am not a regular opera goer. While I enjoyed this one a great deal, if I say it was the best opera I’d ever seen I could just as well say it was the worst opera I’d ever seen — since it is, so far, the ONLY opera I’ve ever seen. The Met’s doing a thing where they show various operas in high def at movie theaters, which is how I was able to see New York’s toniest at the Showcase Cinema in West Warwick, RI.
How much did I like it? I was crying by act 4. It didn’t totally surprise me so much that I liked it (I have some high brow inclinations in my past). What did surprise me, though, was that this was really just a Country & Western song writ very large. If they’d told me that in the first place instead of harping on how Classic and Important this was I’d have been there in a flash. (I had the same experience with Jane Austen. If it wasn’t packaged as a Great Work of Literature but just as, “hey, want to read a funny book?” it wouldn’t have taken me years to start reading her. BTW, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair? Same thing.)
If you doubt that this is a C&W song – let me prove it.
The story opens with two guys: Rudy, a songwriter, and Mark who makes covers for CDs. We are then introduced to their buddy Collin, a guy who is always on the verge of making up his mind what he wants to be. They’re all dead broke, which isn’t exactly surprising given their career choices. Just then Sean shows up. He’s a musician and really the only talented one of the group. He’s brought a six-pack and some food for the guys. They start to dig in and he says wait, save that for another day. Turns out he just made a bunch of money playing for a rich guy and tonight they’re going out honky tonkin’. Then the landlord shows up and they get him drunk and scam their way out of the rent. After dumping him they get ready to go out again. Rudy says he’ll catch up because he’s gotta finish something he’s writing. Really this is just an excuse for him to meet cute with Mimi, his next door neighbor.
The meet-up between Rudy and Mimi, a seamstress, is probably the weakest point of the plot. She needs a light for her candle and then boom love at first sight. Better to have given them a back story like they’d been eyeing each other for weeks on the stairs or something. Anyway, they express true love, she coughs a lot (this is what passes for subtle foreshadowing) and go and catch up with the guys down at their favorite juke joint, Momo’s.
Momo’s is hopping that night. Well, who should show up but Musetta (gotta come up with a different name), Mark’s ex. She dumped him and hooked up with a sugar daddy, we’ll call him Boss Hog. She and Hog come in after a long exhausting day of trying to max out his credit card at the mall. Now she isn’t exactly surprised or unhappy to see Mark. They both take turns trying to make the other one jealous and everyone in the place but them and Boss Hog knows they’re going to get back together. She eventually loses the Boss by sending him out to get her cowboy boots repaired. The evening is winding down and our original group realizes they don’t have enough to pay their bar tab. Musetta comes to the rescue by sticking Boss Hog with the bill and taking off with the gang.
End the first half.
The second half is basically all about people not being able to stand it that Mimi is dying. (Remember that coughing?) Rudy wants to break up with her so she’ll hook a rich guy who can help her get better. Marc and Muse also fight – ostensibly because she’s a flirt and he’s too possessive but really just for dramatic symmetry. It’s at about this time that you sense your tear ducts are going to be pressed in to use at some point.
The final act is the boys back at their run down apartment and eventually Muse shows up to say Mimi is downstairs, too weak to come up. She’s brought up, everyone runs around trying to do something to help her all to no avail and she dies. Cue major crying.
If that’s not the soul of country music, I don’t know what is. All they need to add is a train, a dog and mom breaking out of prison in a pickup truck and it’s a million seller.
My biggest problem with La Boheme wasn’t the production it was the packaging around the production. In addition to three intermissions we got Renee Flemming conducting some really, really lame “up-close-and-personal” interviews with the performers, the conductor and, of course, some cute kids. Not only were the interviews terrible and just made the whole thing longer for no particular reason but they really killed any dramatic momentum.
The problem with these broadcasts is they’re being packaged for people who are already fans. They just assume you’ve seen this opera soooooo many times that you’re really just their for a kind of greatest hits performance. Well guess what guys? IT WAS NEW TO ME. I’d think bringing in new people would be a good thing, so why not try it? And if this has really been performed so often that no one gives a damn about the actual show (why did the singers take a bow at the end of the first two acts?) maybe you should be putting something else on. There was so much irritating inside-baseball stuff going on that I halfway expected commentary from someone saying how much better three dead Greeks and a German did it 50 years ago.
Well, despite all that, the show was a success by my standards. I’m going back at the end of the month to see La Fille du Regiment. I hope Renee Flemming gets a day job by then. BTW, just so you don’t think I’ve lost my crass kitsch roots – this weekend’s cultural activity is roller derby (grudge match: Nutcrackers v Cosmonaughties). See you all there, opera fans.
But I’m still not going to see this one: