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Sophisticated man and opera virgin at Seattle’s ‘La Boheme’

The Seattle Opera's production of La Boheme is directed by Tomer Zvulun, with sets by Erhard Rom, costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, and lighting by Robert Wierzel. Photo by Elise Bakketun

It’s been called one of the most popular operas of all time.

Puccini’s La Boheme is appealing to new opera listeners and seasoned ticket holders because of its simple story line that follows a pair of couples as they fall in love and try to keep that love alive.

Seattle Opera’s production of “La Boheme” just opened. Opera buff Tom Tangney went on opening night with a date who had never been to an opera in her life.

It was my first opera, so Tom coached me on opera etiquette in the car on the drive to the McCaw Hall.

“My rule for you is don’t clap until you hear somebody else clapping. Don’t cheer until you hear somebody else cheer,” said Tom.

Tom explained you say “Bravo” for a male singer and “Brava” for a female.

For those who didn’t have the benefit of the car ride to the opera, here’s a little background of “La Boheme” from Tom:

Set in 19th century Paris, “La Boheme” tells a simple, classic love story among the starving artists set. Rodolfo is a young penniless writer who lives with three other impoverished friends, a painter, a musician, and a philosopher.

Rodolfo meets his neighbor Mimi, a seamstress, when she stops by his garret apartment one night and conveniently faints.

Rodolfo goes to comfort her and quickly falls in love. In Francesco Demuro’s aria in which his character Rodolfo tells Mimi that her eyes have stolen his dreams and replaced them with something even better: hope.

After hearing this beautiful, seductive song of love, Mimi, performed by Elizabeth Caballerosings, offers an equally earnest and seductive aria about her life and loves – how the first sunlight of spring is like a first kiss.

Then, the two sing of their love together, a duet, Rodolfo singing: “in you I see the dream I wish to dream forever” and Mimi singing: “Love, you alone rule my heart.”

The two lovebirds head off to the festive Latin Quarter arm in arm.

Such a nice happy ending…to Act One. This being opera, things rarely work out in the end, but all along the way, through heartbreak, reconciliation, even death, Puccini accompanies it all with the most gorgeous music ever.

I really, really wanted to like opera. I didn’t feel a connection to the performance. It was watching something from a distance, not feeling it. That says more about me – how literal I am – than it does about the presentation, which was spectacular.

“I understand that, there’s an artificiality to the art of opera that if you’re not used to it everything seems sort of strange at first. Once you get into the medium I think you’re more accepting of it,” Tom explained.

I will do another opera, hopefully with Tom. I had a lot of fun.

Listen to the podcast above to hear some of the gorgeous music, and our full discussion of our experience at the Seattle Opera’s performance.

Also don’t miss Dave Ross’ reaction caught on video in the studio.

By LINDA THOMAS, TOM TANGNEY contributed to this report and to an amazing first opera experience. Thanks Tom!

The audio clips from the Seattle Opera feature Francesco Demuro as Rodolpho and Elizabeth Caballero as Mimi, with Carlo Montanaro conducting.

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