La Bohème – a Universal Love Story
A factory, an amusement park with a big merry-go-round and a railway station with a moving train fit on the stage of the country’s main opera house, the Astana Opera. Here, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan, on April 19 and 20, the long-awaited premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème will be held.
The opera shows the life of young people who are independent, dreamy, full of hope, but live in extreme poverty. The composer accurately conveyed the atmosphere of Paris, its Latin Quarter and the attic where the young people live. It is curious that the main characters have their historical prototypes, for example, the character of Rodolfo is based on the author of the novel, Henri Murger. The legendary cafe Momus, which the capital’s audience will see onstage, was a very popular establishment among Parisian bohemians.
The production team will present their vision of this opera. Music Director and Conductor – Giuseppe Acquaviva, famous Italian Stage Director – Andrea Bernard, world renowned contemporary Set Designer – Ezio Frigerio, the Academy Award-winning Costume Designer – Franca Squarciapino, Chief Choirmaster – Honoured Worker of Kazakhstan Yerzhan Dautov. Projections Designer – Sergio Metalli, Lighting Designer – Vincenzo Raponi, Choirmasters of the Children’s Studio – Altynganym Akhmetova, Aigerim Makibayeva, Assistant Directors – Tecla Gucci, Yerenbak Toikenov, Assistant Set Designer – Riccardo Massironi, Assistant Costume Designers – Danièle Boutard, Anna Verde.
According to the Director Andrea Bernard, at the beginning of the opera the protagonists are disillusioned, dreaming of love and trying to express their creativity.
“They live from day to day without wondering what the future will be. As the story goes on, we see their growth. When Rodolfo meets Mimì, he discovers true love and the suffering related to it. La Bohème for me is the metaphor of life. It tells about the growth of the human being and the awareness of the difficulties of life. To describe this metaphor, I decided to set the story in the early 1900s when Paris was a city with a great cultural, industrial and architectural ferment. It experienced a rebirth not only from a cultural point of view, but also from an urban and technological one. The city is a huge construction site in continuous development, and this has also been our inspiration for the set design. Space is very important for me. Set design is an indispensable part of dramaturgy, same as costumes and lights. From the very beginning of this work, Ezio Frigerio understood my requests and tried to turn ideas into space. It is an honor to work with him. I think that it is very important to bring new audience to the opera. La Bohème is a universal story of love and love has no age,” Andrea Bernard noted.
Merry-go-round, Clowns and Jugglers
Set Designer Ezio Frigerio’s sketches are really impressive. This is a large-scale production, which involves all the technical capabilities of the stage. This means that the huge scenery will disappear and reappear right before the audience’s eyes. The stunningly beautiful set elements were made by the Astana Opera team, headed by Deputy Director for Design and Production Victor Carare.
“We made each scene very distinctive, so that the viewers could feel the atmosphere of the year 1900, could better understand the life of these young people. We tried to make both the sets and the video projections complement everything going on onstage. For this purpose, we built an abandoned factory, where our heroes live on the top floor. Everyone will certainly be impressed by the railway station and the transport carriages that will be created almost full-scale, they will move and work in real mode. We used a new technological approach and made more realistic animations in this production. As an example, this concerns an image of the sea. It will be snowing onstage in the third act, and we will see it not only on the projection, but also on the roof of the station,” Victor Carare said.
One of the most spectacular scenes will be a scene with a merry-go-round adorned with lamps and horses, fully reflecting the presented era. The audience will see clowns, as well as jugglers and acrobats on the carousel, but we will not reveal all the secrets, leaving room for surprises…
In Paris, there is still a factory that uses the XIX century cut. It produces jackets and trousers for working-class people. Costume Designer Franca Squarciapino and her assistant, the leading master-patternmaker in France, Danièle Boutard, brought the samples of this cut to the Astana Opera to study. The Costume Shop’s craftswomen quickly mastered the new technology and have already prepared 189 costumes. Since the performance shows the life of poor young people who are trying to survive, their outfits cannot be new. Therefore, Franca Squarciapino used a special aging and distressing technology.
Most of the action takes place in the area where the French working-class people lived, who, at that time, wore black clothes. But the Academy Award winner added some color, played with shades, used various fabric textures and made unusual collars, sleeves and pocket placements on the citizens’ costumes. However, she dressed the bourgeoisie in brighter colors. All the costumes are rather complex, not only because of the unusual technology, but also because it was important to show how ordinary people on the streets looked, taking into consideration all the subtleties of that era.
Not only Costume Shop masters received sketches to work, but also the Prop Shop craftsmen. There are many props in this production.
“We are given sketches, but no one tells us how to bring them to life. Here we start experimenting. We ‘prepared’ the pudding from silicone, pre-cast into a prefabricated mold. Meat made out of foam rubber turned out successfully, we just need to add a little tint and then it can be served on the stage table,” Prop Master Dauren Umarov says.
The seller of windmill toys, balloons and cotton candy is already equipped with everything he needs. Work on a photo camera with a tripod took more time. It had an interesting manufacturing technology, due to the creation of small parts and a realistic flash with smoke. “Where did the camera come from in La Bohème?” you might ask. It is very simple: the director decided that Marcello would be not only a painter, as he is usually presented in classical productions, but a painter and a photographer.
Curiously enough, the most difficult thing to make was a breaking down box, which one of the heroes would have to throw and break in a fit of anger. It will fall and break, but we must not forget that there will be a second performance the next day and no time to repair it and then break it again. The prop masters found a way out – they made it moveable with special fixtures.
Since one of the scenes takes place in a cafe, a fish made from special material, resembling fish scales, a basket of food – eggs, butter, cheese, and an appetizing chicken with a crispy crust appeared in the prop shop.
The artists are preparing, they spend many hours rehearsing in the studio and onstage. in different days, Maria Mudryak, Maira Mukhamedkyzy will present the role of Mimi, Rodolfo – Medet Chotabayev, Zhan Tapin, Marcello – Sundet Baigozhin, Talgat Mussabayev, Colline – Tair Tazhi, Bolat Yessimkhanov, Schaunard – Andrey Borisenko, Yerzhan Saipov, Musetta – Saltanat Akhmetova, Alfiya Karimova, Alcindoro – Armin Babayan, Tair Tazhi, Benoît – Talgat Galeyev, Magzhan Amanzholov, Parpignol – Beimbet Tanarykov, Ramzat Balakishiyev, Customs Sergeant – Samat Zharylkassynov, Bakhtiyar Omarov.
“In the new production of La Bohème, my Mimi will be a strong-willed young girl fighting for her love. Since this production is set in the 1900s, the scenery, costumes and the protagonists’ personalities will be closer to our time. This is the industrial era. Despite this, Puccini’s verismo music remains unchanged. Fortunately, I have no difficulties performing the part of Mimi, as I already sang it at many opera houses in different countries, and it occupies a leading position in my repertoire,” Maria Mudryak said.
In turn, Maira Mukhamedkyzy will perform this part for the first time.
“When I lived in France, I performed Musetta a lot in various productions, but I really wanted to perform the part of Mimi all the time. High sopranos have a characteristic that over the years the voice becomes lower, so at that time it did not fit my voice. After many years, my voice is ready for this part. I really like working with Stage Director Andrea Bernard, it is gratifying that our views coincide in many respects and we see the development of my heroine’s personality in the same way. In many productions she is shown as a girl suffering from a disease, but everything will be different here – Mimi is young, energetic, and unaware of her fatal illness. Even at the moment she dies, Mimi still hopes that she will recover and be happy with Rodolfo. Before she died, he said to her, “You are as beautiful as dawn.” “No, as sunset,” Mimi replied. These words touch me the most in this opera. Life is short, all of us will die, but some people do not even know what true love is even after having lived all their lives. Mimi dies with a heart filled with love, in Rodolfo’s embrace, surrounded by friends. She is happy and unafraid of death. The atmosphere of Paris, conveyed in this opera, is very close to me, since I have lived in this beautiful city for seven years. Cafe, railway station and factory give the feeling that I am once again in the heart of France,” Maira Mukhamedkyzy shared.
Medet Chotabayev and Zhan Tapin will perform the part of Mimi’s beloved Rodolfo.
“La Bohème was written by Giacomo Puccini – a composer who gave the world many wonderful operas, such as Madama Butterfly, Turandot and others. La Bohème is known for its famous melodies and arias. I performed it at the Abai Opera House, at the Astana Opera, in the previous production, and also at the Italian Teatro Carlo Felice. The new version of this opera turned out to be very ambitious, with incredibly beautiful sets, but the most beautiful thing in this opera is, of course, harmonious music. I light up each time I perform it. In my opinion, this story could also happen in real life, where people remain people with their goals, morals and values. Regardless of whether it will be a classical or a modern production, our main task is to convey to the audience the characters’ emotions and, of course, to demonstrate masterful musical technique,” Medet Chotabayev said.
His colleague Sundet Baigozhin – the performer of the part of Marcello – immediately after one premiere is already preparing for another.
“I need to quickly meet the deadlines, as the premiere of Gioachino Rossini’s opera La Scala di Seta, in which I performed one of the main parts, took place quite recently. There is little more than 10 days between the premieres of La Scala di Seta and La Bohème, we have to work at a fast pace. Rehearsal process is going on at the moment. I really like this process, we have a good director who knows what he wants from the artists and he tries to show everything to the audience as clearly as possible. I put in every effort, dissecting the structure of the production, learning the mise-en-scenes filled with small movements. The most important thing for me is to understand with what I come onstage and with what I leave it,” Sundet Baigozhin emphasized.
Giacomo Puccini’s Music
La Bohème is a lyrical opera, with intimate drama in its centre. According to musicologists, the music of La Bohème is full of exciting, heartwarming melodies. The expressiveness of singing is set off by the variety of colours, temperamental impetuosity of the orchestral part. The Music Director and Conductor of the opera La Bohème is Italian Maestro Giuseppe Acquaviva, who is the conductor of major operatic and symphonic concerts, including a concert with the National Symphony Orchestra of Shanghai (Shanghai, 2006), the Puccini Marathon (Tokyo, 2007) and others.
The opera La Bohème has been happily marching across the world for two centuries now, and it will occupy an important place in the repertoire of the Astana Opera as a great example of opera art.