May 23, 2017

RPO's "La Bohème" is "intimate storytelling at its finest"

The following note was written by Grant Preisser, stage director for the RPO's semi-staged concert producion of Puccini 's La Bohème. Preisser is general manager and stage director for Angels & Demons Entertainment (ADE), a full-service production company focused on producing concert and semi-staged works for symphony orchestras. This is his RPO debut.
Grant Preisser

"Opera as an art form is known for its larger-than-life characters presented on a grand stage. It is the marriage of incredible music, stellar singing, and spectacular production that keeps audiences enraptured and rouses them to their feet in thunderous applause. However, more and more concert and semi-staged productions of opera are being presented by opera companies and symphony orchestras alike. This type of presentation is the full opera with reduced production elements: limited to no set, the orchestra on stage, and limited staging opportunities for the singers. On the surface this sounds static and not representative of the composer’s envisioning of the work, but with the right piece this can create a heightened and perhaps more intense dramatic experience for an audience.

"La Bohème is just such a piece that lends itself well to a semi-staged treatment. Puccini eschewed the tradition of operas being about gods and goddesses, kings and queens, focusing much of his work on more relatable characters. His self-professed intent in his compositions was to express “great sorrows in little souls.” In this semi-staged presentation, “great sorrows” are expressed by the RPO onstage and the “little souls” are brought to life by a sensitive and nuanced cast. Puccini puts real people onstage, emphasizing human relationships and the tender, tenuous route they take. This works well within the more intimate and evocative setting that a semi-staged production creates.

"Based on the Henri Murger novel and subsequent play, Puccini, with librettists Luigi Illica
and Giuseppe Giacosa, structured his La Bohème into four acts, which Puccini conceptualized
as “images.” Each image is a vignette of the bohemian life, with the plot centering around
the relationship of Rodolfo and Mimì. The idea of images works well within the limitations
of a semi-staged approach in that each scene is presentational without the need for scenic
elements to aid the drama. Some strategic props and simple costume elements set the tableau,
and the audience is left to become immersed in the drama unfolding before them.

"Semi-staged productions, however, are not simply putting the singers in front of the orchestra and giving them appropriate entrances and exits. The onus in communicating Puccini’s story now rests solely on the power of each singer’s performance and the ensemble dynamic created between the characters. This is intimate storytelling at its finest as the singers must connect and emotionally engage the audience who aren’t distracted by the typical sweeping Parisian backdrop associated with other iconic productions of this work.

"What evokes the sweeping landscape intended for this band of Bohemians instead is the ability to have an expanded orchestra and chorus. Not being limited to a pit or the confines of a stage, the orchestra and chorus become characters in the piece as opposed to simple accompaniment. For Puccini this creates a glorious opportunity for the audience to bask in his lush melodic lines and rich orchestral texture, getting swept away on an emotional journey to the tearful conclusion of Rodolfo and Mimì’s relationship."

If you go
Puccini's La Bohème in Concert
Thursday, May 25 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, May 27 at 8 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $23

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