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Second Sight - Music with Wilfrid Mellers

13. Mimi's Fate
Opera North's 'La Bohème'

'... alarming topicality and truth.'


Eight years ago, Phyllida Lloyd's production of La Bohème for Opera North at the Grand Theatre in Leeds was one of the major successes that launched her Brilliant Career. Currently, that production is being rehashed, with a new cast and minor modifications by Daniel Slater: so we may see and hear afresh why it originally seemed a revelation of the piece's alarming topicality and truth. La Bohème is usually considered the most popular of Puccini's operatic hits, and it may even be, tout court, the most popular opera. It is not difficult to understand why the piece exerts so potent a spell, since it deals, no holds barred, with what is probably the basic human experience. It is about young people whose pristine and primitive desire is to live as immediately as possible, dabbling in Art (which is mini-creation, a long way after God's fashioning of the universe!), whilst passing the inexorable time in japes, jokes, booze, drugs and sex, until the Grim Reaper decides it's time to reap. Life, in the face of the indubitable fact of death, seems illusory -- a creed, or anti-creed that cuts out any 'values' that conscious beings may hopefully or fretfully pursue. Puccini had the courage to pay the price of his honesty: which makes him the prime representative of modern democracy in musically theatrical terms. By the end of the 19th century he had evolved techniques brilliantly adaptable to his remorseless theme.

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Copyright © 6 October 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK




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