The lights go down, the curtain is raised, and the audience at the Embassy this Saturday sees... opera in Fort Wayne? Well, almost. Continuing their trend of past years, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic will end their season with a concert version of a famous opera. The Embassy will be packed to the gills because the Fort Wayne Philharmonic will be playing Zappa's Thing-Fish. Or maybe its Puccini's La Boheme, which is quite possibly the most popular opera ever written! There won't be much room to move around in there so I suggest you bring your smaller poncho-wearing llama to the show.
Giacomo "guacamole" Puccini succeeded Verdi as the most important Italian composer of his time (actually, this was settled with a good old-fashioned Indian leg-wrestling match, which wasn't too difficult for Puccini seeing as Verdi had died the year before). Born into a long line of musicians, it was expected that Giacomo would become a church organist but while in the Milan Conservatory some miscreant steered him toward opera. This fit him quite well as Puccini had a taste for melodrama, a highly developed sense of theatre, an uncanny facility for memorable melodies, and a love of lentils. Some have called Puccini a genius at emotional blackmail 'cause he knows which heartstrings to pull and yanks 'em like a lovesick hunchback at Notre Dame. Other misanthropes call his operas formulatic in that his style develops very little from his third opera through to his last, but others say that he found something that worked so why change it. I personally have no view on this topic but grace my palm with $20 and I'll gladly join your side. Puccini's other operas include such forgettable titles as Tosca, Madame Butterfly and Earl the Lonely Hamster.
La Boheme was written in 1896 and is based loosely on his life while in college, albeit seen through a romantic haze. The story depicts a group of impoverished students living in the Latin Quarter of Paris around 1830. Rodolfo is a stuggling poet, Marcello is a painter, Colline a philosopher, and Spleen is the psychotic punk rock performance artist that MTV threw in to irk everyone off by vomiting on command. Rodolfo meets and falls in love with Mimi the Seamstress. By the third act they separate, mostly because Rodo can't cope with the fact that Mimi is dying of consumption (and skin cancer brought on by copious amounts of bright blue eye shadow). Rodolfo changes his mind and the couple reunites while Mimi dies in his arms. Guaranteed not a dry eye in the house. The score is littered with classic arias (songs) such as (roll K-Tel type titles now) "Che gelinda manina" (Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen) and many more! Well, you'll recognize them when you hear them. Like most of Puccini's operas, this one is full of glutinous sentimentality, and a helpless, weak heroine at the mercy of callous, domineering men... or maybe this is the formula for a Stephen King novel. The melodies have short, easily remembered phrases that are intensely emotional and the orchestra is used to reinforce the vocal melody and to add atmosphere, landscape, and the occasional uprising of "harrumphs" to the performance.
You want to attend, you need to attend, but you don't understand Italian and two hours of confusion is just too much to handle (unless it is a Ren & Stimpy marathon). Sure, you can channel earthworm spirits and commune with garden gnomes but you've never quite mastered the Italian language. Fear not, sequestered sasquatch, for there will be supertitles at the performance. Nay, 'tis not a bunch of grown men in leotards with letters on their chest but words projected on a screen behind the performance. And not just any words but words in English! Words like aardvark, dailyjournal.tripod.com and helium balloon. If the projector-person is in a good mood, they might even project the words of the singers so that those who do not speak Italian can follow along. Nifty, eh? This is not a full blown opera, however, with sets and costumes, and women with horns on their Madonnas. Nope. In the concert version there are no sets and no costumes (but I have it on good authority that all performers will be wearing clothes... except the brass section but what else is new). What remains is lots of good music, a moving story, the entire philharmonic, the Philharmonic Chorus, and the Holy Cross Junior Choir. Plan to get there early so you can find a seat for your llama.
Copyright 2000 Jason Hoffman