A rethought, edited, and rearranged La boheme from Opera Philadelphia

Bohemians Marcello (Troy Cook), Schaunard (Benjamin Taylor), Colline (Adam Lau) and Rodolfo (Joshua Blue) prepare to feast in Puccini’s La bohème. Photo by Steven Pisano.
Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
La bohème tells the story of three couples: the romantic poet Rodolfo and the serene, self-possessed flowergirl Mimì; the temperamental painter Marcello and the fiercely independent singer Musetta; the lovably pedantic musician Schaunard and the taciturn philosopher Colline.
Yuval Sharon
Opera Philadelphia presents a daringly revised La boheme now through May 7 at the Academy of Music. Yuval Sharon  has created a production where the end of the opera now opens the opera, and everything which follows is a meditation on the conclusion. Mr. Sharon is using Kierkegaard’s quotation, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards,”  with the emphasis on understanding this story backwards. 
Opera Philadelphia’s La boheme is a co-production shared with Opera Detroit, Boston Lyric Opera, and Spoleto Festival USA. 
John Conklin, the legendary Set Designer, is Artistic Advisor to Boston Lyric Opera, which is a definite plus for this production, as he was the Set Designer. The eminent conductor Corrado Rovaris led the opera orchestra surely, with great emotional intensity. For the most part, the cast included young singers on the verge of illustrious careers. Joshua Blue, Troy Cook, Kara Goodrich, Melissa Joseph, Adam Lau, and Benjamin Taylor all shone in their roles as they thrilled the receptive audience. 
A new character was created to shepherd us through the plot rearrangement. The Wanderer was played with style and aplomb by Anthony Martinez-Briggs. Wandering through the production, he assumed a narrative link as well as posing the trenchant question at key points in the drama by asking, “What would have happened if …?” Indeed, the story could have been very different if Mimi or Musetta had taken another course of action. This La boheme was edited, and performed without intermission, bringing it to an economical 100 minutes. This reimagining worked well for those of us who have heard and seen the opera several times. However, it probably would have been confusing to those seeing it for the first time, or for those who know the plot only through the hit musical Rent. A welcome, but interesting spin is seen in the relationship between Shaunard and Colline. We see the men embrace occasionally, and stare often into each other’s eyes. It is one of the most staid affairs in the opera compared to the displays by Mimi/Rodolfo and the fiery Marcello/Musetta.
Opera Philadelphia’s La boheme is well worth your while. Beautifully staged, thrillingly sung, and orchestrally sweeping in idiomatic Puccini playing, it is a must-see for opera lovers. 
For further information about this and next season, visit:
For those who file their taxes quarterly, or who find themselves with money they would like to go to charity, please consider the Artistry Now Matching Fund. Board member Barbara Augusta Teichert has pledged up to $2.5 million in matching funds for new and increased gifts made through May 31, 2025. There is plenty of time to plan your charitable gift. Visit operaphila.org/ArtistryNow or text ARTISTRY  to 41444 to join. 
You may also access membership@operaphila.org , or phone 215-732-8400.

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