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EDITIONS
Monday, 21 October, 2002, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Baz's brilliant La Boheme
Lisa Hopkins as Mimi and Jesus Garcia as Rodolfo (photo by Douglas Kirkland)
Luhrmann has moved the opera into the 1950s

Baz Luhrmann's production of the greatest love story ever sung is a triumph for opera and for the man himself.

As a man who normally likes to cock a snook at convention, there was some unease among the aficionados about how Lurhmann might handle a beloved classic like Puccini's La Boheme, given his MTV treatment of Romeo and Juliet for the big screen.

And even though he taunted the opera purists and said he wanted to take the snobbery out of the art form and open it up to a new audience, all the hand wringing was for naught.

From beginning to end, La Boheme Baz-style sizzled.

Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Constantine Kitsopoulos  (photo by Douglas Kirkland)
The sets, designed by Catherine Martin (centre) are "knock-out"
The opera sung in Italian is a timeless tale of love and loss. It centres around a poor seamstress called Mimi and her poet lover Rodolfo. They live in a dank Parisian garret amid a group of bohemian friends who constantly engage in bonhomie.

Luhrmann has shifted the action from Puccini's 1890s to the 1950s with the actors strutting around in leather jackets and t-shirts.

For this production, which has just opened in San Francisco before heading to Broadway in December, there are three Mimis and three Rodolfos who take it in turns to fufil the punishing eight shows a week schedule.

Passion

The singers are young and very easy on the eye. David Miller as Rodolfo and Ekaterina Solovyeva as Mimi are vibrant and vocally stunning. And their handling of the moving O Soave Fanciulla (Oh, Lovely Maiden) duet soars to new heights.

The amplification of the singers' voices ensures that everyone in the house can hear and feel the pain and the passion.

The sets, designed by Lurhmann's creative partner and wife Catherine Martin, are a knock-out. The monochromactic style influenced by the photographers of the 50s is all the more dramatic when Musetta enters during Act II in a fiery red dress.

Ekaterina Solovyeva as Mimi and David Miller as Rodolfo (photo by Douglas Kirkland)
"The audience were in raptures at the end"
The Bertolt Brecht style of seeing the nuts and bolts of what goes on works to great effect in making the audience feel a part of the production.

The curtain does not come down to allow sets to be changed. Seeing actors and technicians roam the stage between acts is refreshing and even watching the artificial snow being vacuumed up adds to the intimacy.

Erotically charged

The flashy second act at Cafe Momus is an assault of the senses. There is so much going on on stage you don't want to read the subtitles in case you miss something.

There is a constant parade of hookers and gendarmes, roller skating children and a dwarf while Mimi and Rodolfo's tender love is played out alongside Musetta and Marcello's snarling and erotically charged come on.

The subtitles are easy to read but sometimes seem dated. For example in Act I the line "He was caught flirting" reads "He was making out with a hot chick"/

The audience was in raptures at the end and Lurhmann's attempt to bring opera to a new generation certainly seemed to succeed.

Jane Jordan, a 19-year-old first time opera goer along with her friends told BBC News Online that she thought it was fantastic.

Her friend Tracey Hull said: "I want to go and see more to see the differences between what Baz does and what other directors do."

Purist

And 20-year-old Helen Wright said: "It was so beautiful. It made you feel like you were right there with it. I will see anything Baz Luhrmann does in the future for sure."

Even the purists couldn't find fault. Self proclaimed opera buff Jean Hammond said: "I just saw Turandot and she was like a huge big lump. She must have weighed 300lbs. This Mimi was real. This was superb."

La Boheme is at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco until 10 November. It then moves to the Broadway Theatre in New York performance is at the Broadway Theatre - previews start on 26 November, and the opening night is 8 December.

See also:

07 Oct 02 | Entertainment
07 Feb 02 | Oscars 2002
09 May 01 | Oscars 2002
24 Jul 02 | Entertainment
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