Last weekend I was lucky enough to see La Bohème at the St James in Wellington.
I should start by saying that I’m not an opera buff. I go to the ones I’ve heard of, on the grounds that there must be something in their popularity. Usually I have a good time, but I’m very much on the outer of the opera crowd. I tend to think “use it or lose it” – I’m glad there is real opera performed in Wellington, so I should patronise it. And it was on this basis that I bought tickets for La Bohème.
I’ve seen Puccini operas before. Madame Butterfly, with Dame Malvina Major, for instance. If you only see one opera in your life, see Madame Butterfly. Hugely melodramatic, a gripping plot, everything that can go wrong for the eponymous heroine does go wrong, with fantastically memorable music. And I saw Turandot last year, which is the one with Nessun Dorma – if you know one male operatic aria, it’s Nessun Dorma. Yes, that one.
La Bohème is the story of a young woman in a group of other young, somewhat alternative, people – the “bohemians” of the title. She’s called Mimi, although she doesn’t know why because her name is Lucia. And I fell in love her from the first aria.
The whole opera, it seems to me, hinges around the contrast between the fake and the authentic. Mimi makes fake flowers for a living. The set, and most of the plot, is gritty realism. She dies, of course, at the end as you know she will, but instead of the great theatrical fireworks that you often get in opera, her passing is low key and even more dramatic for that.
Mimi was wonderfully played. She was sublime. I had tears in my eyes for most of the performance.
Experts assured me that the leading man was “dishy” as well. Even the scene changing between acts was a perfectly-executed drama in its own right.
And, just as a side comment – one of those little things which make Wellington the place in the world to live – our Governor General was there. He was about 12 seats from me. I might not even have noticed had it not been for a woman in military scrambled eggs. Yet, no-one got frisked and no-one got metal-detected. Don’t you love that?
A fantastic evening that I will remember for a long time. Thank you to all who helped make it happen. Especially Mimi.