“La Bohéme” offers perfect date night fare

Starving artists, young love, jealousy, despair – “La Bohéme” has it all.

“If you’re in the arts or writing or philosophy, these are kindred spirits,” says Linda Brand, who’s directing the new production of Puccini’s classic opera that opens tonight at Kansas University Theatre.

Based on a novel (which was really more a series of vignettes) by Henri Murger, “La Bohéme” (“The Bohemians”) follows the travails of four young artists in Paris of the late 1800’s. In particular, Rodolfo the poet and Marcello the painter live together in a tiny apartment and are freezing.

“But one of their friends, Schaunard, has come into some money because he was hired essentially to poison a parrot,” Brand says.

The group goes out to celebrate, but Rodolfo stays behind to finish work on his drama. There is a knock on the door, and, when he answers, the beautiful, young Mimì is there asking for a light for her candle, which has gone out.

“He invites her in, and she’s so cold,” Brand says. “They spend the evening talking, and they discover they are falling in love.”

That sets much of the story’s action in motion. Mimì suffers from tuberculosis, and Rodolfo pretends to always be angry with her and to push her away, because he knows he cannot afford to care for her. He’s hoping she will leave him and take up with a rich man, who can afford to treat her disease.

Meanwhile, Marcello is in love with the beautiful and talented singer Musetta, but she is a terrible flirt. He manages to capitalize on this, stealing her away from her rich boyfriend, Alcindoro, but her constant coquettishness infuriates him. Naturally, both couples, after struggling throughout the opera, end up together. But this is opera after all, and things don’t turn out fully right.

“It’s this huge, big cry,” Brand says.

“La Bohéme” is one of the most-performed operas in the world and is a favorite of singers and audiences alike.

“It’s a fantastic first opera for anyone,” Brand says of the show’s accessibility.

The University Theatre production, presented in collaboration with KU’s School of Music, has taken several artistic liberties with the traditional presentation.

“The opera is set in the 1830’s,” Brand says, “but we’ve updated it just enough to bring it into the 1890’s, which was when it was first performed. Our costume designer has been inspired by Renoir, so everyone looks like they belong in one of those fabulous French paintings. I’m really excited to bring to share this with everybody.”

As is customary with opera in the U.S., “La Bohéme” will be sung in its original Italian.

“But we’ll be projecting subtitles onto the proscenium, so you can follow the story,” Brand says. “If you know ‘La Bohéme’ well, you can sit down front. If it’s your first time, you may want to sit farther back, or even in the balcony so you can see them well.”

And “La Bohéme’s” story is both classic (it forms the basis for the modern musical, “Rent”) and enjoyable.

“It’s a great date night show,” Brand enthuses.

“La Bohéme” runs today, Sunday, Thursday and April 27. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m., except Sunday, April 21, when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at kutheatre.com or by calling the box office at 864-3982.

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