Claus Guth designed the set of La Boheme in space. At the first look, this seems like a very bold choice. But it is not the first time that a setting placed in the space actually. As you may guess, when the subject is La Boheme, audiences tend to be more conservative. They want productions of La Boheme each season, but they don't want new groundbreaking productions, they want the traditional staging that is loved and adored a lot. I, on the other hand, am open to new ideas. When I first heard the space staging, this immediately triggered me and I couldn't wait to see the production. And I would appreciate if the storyline, the libretto and the feelings were adjusted properly to a new timeline or a storyline. This would enlarge our understanding of the piece. I think if the aspects of the piece were somehow able to be connected to the new story, the creativity will be appreciated. So my look for this production was all positive, because aside from the traditional staging which would be the first choice for every opera lover, it is good to have alternative creative productions to keep the opera alive. Now, let's see how Claus Guth achieved / not achieved this.
First of all, it is not easy to find this production online. I watched it from medici.tv; it is available until the middle of the March, so hurry if you want to watch it. When you watch a production like this, you are focising more to the questions in your mind like how this scene will be adjusted.. etc. So it started immediately in space where our team of Bohemians were in the space shuttle. When curtain opens, music doesn't start immediately; instead we see Rodolfo typing in the subtitles to make us understand basicly that they are in a space mission that somethings go wrong, they are hopeless, they had so little materials to survive, no connection etc. After we understand this, it was easy to connect the first scenes. They were frozing in the shuttle, so the libretto was fitting actually. Event the lyrics about to the look of Paris were connected when Rodolfo watched the Earh from the window. Since we understand that our Bohemians are the only ones in the mission, I immediately started to wonder about the landlord (and Mimi and Musetta of course). For the landlord, they bring a corpse from somewhere.. we don't know who it is or the story of it. In the first appearings of the corpse, we don't understand the purpose. But later, our Bohemians who are so bored, pretends the corpse is the landlord and plays pretend with it. It is not entirely convincing but I can live with it :)
Rodolfo stays to write in the space journal and others left to go to 'Cafe Momus'. Of course, we are wondering where that can be :) But we are even more curious about Mimi, and where she'll be coming from. We don't get a cue there, we hear Mimi knocking on the door and she enters to the scene; with a red dress and a candle (try not to question the candly in the space - maybe it could have been replace with a lighter). When they start their converstaion, Mimi looks directly to the audience with dead eyes, not moving like a ghost. She doesn't look ill or cold at all. We understand from the act of Rodolfo that he's imagining Mimi, no other clue until that point. Le me comment there, I think Rodolfo imagining Mimi is understandable, they are about to lose their minds due to the lack of oxygen and other supplies; also loneliness. However, since now we are in the space, we are clearly in the modern times. So Rodolfo's memories doesn't really make sense on that point, she met a girl who has a tuberculosis who needs the neighbor to light her candle to go home ? Hmm. Maybe a little adjustment needed for the memories, as well. Going back to the production, when Rodolfo starts ''Che Gelida Manina'', he starts to film himself singing. I thought, is Mimi still alive on Earth? Will he send this video -hoping it will reach her- to Mimi? But after this aria, there is no suggestion to any of this. But I was still hopeful and find it interesting up to this point. When they finished their singing, they should have been left the stage to join others in Cafe Momus, but instead Mimi disappeared, and Rodolfo went to the freezing unit (? I don't know - a strange bed :) ). Then we see in the subtitles an entry from Rodolfo -but he wasn't typing at that point- that he's having visions of Mimi - ''Mimi returns, always Mimi'' he says.
Hence, the problem starts! Now the Cafe Momus scene has started, we already have a Rodolfo in the stage. This point onwards things are not going as I imagined. Cafe Momus comes to the shuttle in the imagination of Rodolfo, but other crew is there also, are they also imagining ? Let me begin from the top. Rodolfo wokes up from his bed and sees the children, clowns and other casts from the original Cafe Momus scene. They are also bringing tables etc and now we are in the Cafe Momus. However, this is the interesting part, all crew are still in their space suit. And they have doubles that comes with Mimi ! Actually, it is more complicated than this even. Because, other crew members are switched to the normal clothes and sit around the table. But Rodolfo -since he was on stage already are in his spacesuit and his double is in the normal clothes. Mimi comes with the double. All spacesuit people are watching their imagination on the stage. At some point, Rodolfo and his double switches clothes. Now we have all singing crew in normal suits. Why this caos ? If you want doubles just to stare to the imagination, why Rodolfo stayed in the stage and confuse us all ? He could simple leave the stage following ghost Mimi and we could ready the overtitles alone, he was not typing anyway ! Since the doubles are not really look like the crew members, it was rather confusing. You could see their clothes has names, I could see that on screen, but I doubt that audience could see that (maybe first row only). Also, it makes sense that Rodolfo and Macello dreaming, but why Colline and Schaunard dream this ? :)
The first scene was part really on space, part imagination. But second scene is all imagination; no real connection, even overtitles.. It starts and ends as a imagination while astronauts staring.
Yes, I am not sure about the second scene. If you are about to die in space alone, you may imagine a scene like this if it was all happy memories. Maybe Marcello's dream was okay, bur Rodolfo dreaming where he was jealous of Mimi ? Hmm, don't think so.
Let's go to the third act. Now, we are actually on the moon. Why ? We don't know, they already don't have any supplies, how could they land to the moon ? Why they are outside ? No answer there. But the most disturbing thing for me that we have cast from the Cafe Momus scene ! WHY? This is really strange. It was one dream, even in the real story they are not connected and there were time time passed between these events. We still have doubles. Now, the doubles -who are not singing- are in the space suits - some of them don't wear their helmets though, clearly you can breathe in space now :) - and our crew in their normal suits. This scene is clearly centered around Mimi; and since these are all memories of Rodolfo, how can he dreams a part he didn't witness ? Mimi and Marcello talking about Rodolfo and he imagines that ? This scene should have been really romantic - snows falling, they are promise to be seperated in the future, Mimi's illness first addressed here.. But now, we are waching some mission in the backgound, astronaut Rodolfo tries to interfene with the memory events. Instead of snow, we have ashes. Other than that, this scene became a really cold scene, we are not touched by any of these. Also again Musetta and Marcello's story is so behing that we couldn't see the contrast of relationships. This way we couldn't appreciate the quartet. Also, the most irritating thing for me the star in the background ? What is that ? Is it from the Cafe Momus scene ? How it is connected ?
We come to the last scene; Mimi will die here. This is very critical, very. The whole charm of La Boheme is coming from its natural, unpretentious feeling. It's about a love story that is not perfect (jealous, sick, on and off). The most important thing is the natural death of Mimi and music not taking the hint until Rodolfo finds out. This scene was really really bad. I couldn't appreciate a single thing about the scene, really. First of all, a clown. Why ? I really don't understand why there is a clown in this scene ? It appears from the backgorund, and it is always there. The purpose ? There is absolutely no purpose. He's coming from the Cafe Momus scene. He was there lying in the background. now he is awake and always in the scene :(
Now, be prepared. The most dramatic scene of the opera history has shiny curtains in the moon :) Rodolfo and Marcello has a microphone and pretend to be singing. Yes, I know what you're feeling.
They are all playing behind these curtain - only showing heads etc. Astronaut Rodolfo taking the pink (but red in the production) bonnet for one hour now :) Musetta comes with the bad knows, but it is not convincing that Bohemians has no money, that Mimi is cold etc. We are in this shiny background, with costumes that seems very expensive.. Also how come our astronauts come from such a poverty ? (If we go that far, how come poet ends up in a mission to moon, I don't go there). These details, I can look the other way. But the death scene doesn't connect with me at all. There is no bed, they are all standing in line in front of the curtain. There is no acting in this scene; there are only singing. We hear that others understand the death of Mimi but we don't see them. We don't see that Rodolfo is looking another way and don't see Mimi. We wouldn't be undertand the death of Mimi if Musetta won't make a comment on it since Mimi was walking on the moon even after her death. Music strikes, Rodolfo cries for the Mimi, but we don't get upset, we see Mimi walking still. Is the dream over ? And what happen to the mission ? Is Rodolfo dead already ? The story seems to be abondened.
As I said in the beginning, I wasn't judjemental about placing lovely La Boheme on space, I am very open in that case. But a production that could go really well, seem to be rushed after the first act. But since these productions evokes so many reactions, it reminds the audience how much we love the drama, how much we adore opera. If it was another traditional staging, I wouldn't be writing this. So I recommend you to see it, but imagine what would have done? It is a never-dying love story that could be connected to any time and place. Always something to appreciate.
This production conducted by Dudamel. Atalla Ayan as Rodolfo, Nicole Car as Mimi, Aida Gariullina as Musetta gave a spectacular performance. Musically, it will really satisfy you.