This weekend, the KSO will collaborating with the Knoxville Opera Company to produce Puccini's La Bohème, on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. This staple of the opera literature, written in 1896, hovers in the top three of the most frequently performed operas worldwide, and for good reason. It is the Puccini opus previous to his Tosca, which the KOC and KSO performed “progressive-dinner” style last spring. Puccini foreshadowed themes for Bohème in his embryonic Capriccio Sinfonico, performed on the October, 2016 Masterworks pairs. If you attended that concert, the themes should sound wicked familiar to you.
As a reaction to the rash of historical operas that dominated Italian opera in the late 19th and early 20th century, a new style of work called verismo opera became popular, seeking to capitalize on the popularity of the Scapigliatura or “disheveled” Italian poetry movement of the 1860s, and incorporating “slice-of-life” elements found in the writings of Zola, Maupassant and Ibsen. Other composers such as Giordano, Leoncavallo and Mascagni carried the torch of the verismo phenomenon, but Bohème put verismo- and Puccini- on the map to stay.
I have a long history with Bohème. In the crowd scene in Act II, there's a singing part for an extremely young child, the task of which fell to our son Richard in the KOC's February, 2003, production at age 7. So every time we get to rehearsal number 13 in Act II, I get this nervous feeling in my stomach as I recall the anxiety that came with the huge buildup to this spotlit moment, regardless of who is singing it.
Anyway, there shouldn't be any anxiety on the listener's part, as Puccini's score is chock-full of achingly beautiful phrases and grandly boisterous scenes, and the tragic ending doesn't mar the effect of some truly comical moments. Come on down to the Tennessee Theatre Friday at 7:30 or Sunday at 2:30 for a whirlwind trip to Paris!