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EDITIONS
Monday, 7 October, 2002, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Baz's Broadway opera
Jesus Garcia and Lisa Hopkins in La Boheme
Luhrmann and Martin chose a monochrome theme

The Australian director of movie hit Moulin Rouge, Baz Luhrmann, has never been afraid to tinker with the arts world's sacred cows.

He did it most successfully with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet where he opened the bard's work up to a more diverse crowd than schools ever could.

Now he is at it again, with the 40-year-old preparing to stage classic opera - Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme - on Broadway where he feels it will reach its "true audience".

By that he means supplanting the so called "opera buffs" who have turned the medium into an elitist art form for an "exclusive club".

"Puccini made this work that it could be played for all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds - thatıs everyone from the street sweeper to the King of Naples. That was our mission," he explains in San Francisco, where the opera will run first.


We're going to make the experience as much like the one you would have had in the 1840s

Baz Luhrmann
"How do we make it clear to a younger audience who may be fearful of going into an opera house with all of its strange conventions?

"You don't have to have a degree in music to understand an opera and get an emotional connection to the story."

The story is as old as time. Two young people, Rodolfo, a writer and Mimi, a seamstress, are mired in poverty. They meet and fall in love in a dank garret.

The backdrop includes young, bohemian artist friends who are bored with life.

Rebels

But instead of being set in the 1840s, the opera - which was first performed in 1896 - will be given a 1950s backdrop.

"We found the social and economic realities of 1957 were a very good match for the 1840s," Luhrmann says.

Baz Luhrmann
Smashing convention: Baz Lurhmann
"It was post-war, enormously bourgeois and stable and this notion of rebels without a cause - young people who are non-politicised and who are just rebelling for the sake of it - existed in the 1840s and as well as in 1957. It was a perfect social match."

Lurhmann's singers are amplified - something that is par for the course in musical theatre but strictly taboo in the world of opera.

The director says he wants his audience to hear the opera the way Puccini meant it to be heard.

"We're going to make the experience as much like the one you would have had in the 1840s," he explains.

"That means acoustically everybody in the house needs to hear it.

"In a small Italian opera house everybody in that space would have had quite a visceral experience."

One nod to tradition comes in the fact the singing will be in Italian.

But the look will be different. Lurhmann, together with his creative partner and wife Catherine Martin, is going for a very pared-down black and white approach.

It is a far cry from the work Martin did for Moulin Rouge for which she won an Oscar.

Monochrome style

For La Boheme, Martin was inspired by the photographers of the 1950s.

Catherine Martin
Catherine Martin won acclaim for her work on Moulin Rouge
"This idea of black and white photos, by Doisneau or Henri Cartier Bresson or even earlier photographers was the creative starting point," she says.

"The interesting thing is that people to some degree expect something different from us and that possibly breaks down some barriers."

It is not the first time the duo have tackled one of opera's most renowned works.

They staged their more modern version in Sydney in 1990 for the Australian Opera when Luhrmann was just 28. Critics hated it but leading soprano Joan Sutherland praised the show.

Now Luhrmann feels La Boheme marks the final chapter in his "red curtain work" which included Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom.

"The decision of what to make has never come from a point of 'gee, let's go break a taboo' - it comes simply from what I need to do with my life, what will make my life a rich and interesting journey," he says.

"Man cannot live for opening nights alone."

La Boheme opens at the Curran Theatre, San Francisco, on 15 October and plays until 10 November.

The New York performance is at the Broadway Theatre - previews start on 26 November, and the opening night is 8 December.

See also:

07 Feb 02 | Oscars 2002
24 Jul 02 | Entertainment
24 Feb 02 | Entertainment
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