Austin Opera's La Bohème

The beauty of the music and stagecraft in this production teaches us something about love and art

Photo by Erich Schlegel

Did you see Avengers: Endgame last weekend? Get that out of your system? Good. Now, in order to rebalance Thanos' dismembered universe, how about a night at the opera?

If you, like me, haven't attended many operas, you may be more familiar with La Bohème from its narrative doppelgänger, the 1990s musical Rent. In La Bohème, Austin Opera's current production, two down-and-out artists/roommates, Marcello (Noel Bouley) and Rodolfo (Kang Wang), live in a slum apartment where they have no money to build a fire, much less pay their rent. On Christmas Eve, their friend Schaunard (Andrew Lovato) makes some much-needed coin by playing/poisoning the King's annoying pet to death. He offers to take his crew out on the town, but Rodolfo stays behind, encountering the tender, consumptive Mimì (Elizabeth Caballero), who begs him to light her candle in the dark winter night. They fall in love.

Sound familiar?

Jonathan Larson's Rent, of course, was populated by gay hustlers and drag queens and heroin addicts, not just the bohemians we encounter in Puccini's opera. However, both works cover similar themes: the great price of attempting to make great art; the value of poetry in a landscape of poverty; and, mostly, love. La Bohème is a story that examines the extremes of love and devotion. Rodolfo, because he senses Mimì's impending death, grows cruel to her, picking fights over minor jealousies rather than taking a chance on losing her. Marcello reunites and again parts with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, the petulant drama queen Musetta (played in captivating style here by Susannah Biller). Musetta, like Rent's Maureen, tortures her lover, preferring instead to turn the heads of other suitors; a flirt to her bones. I all but expected her to burst out, "So take me, baby, or leave me!"

Because Austin Opera's production is staged at the Long Center, during the two intermissions, the audience slowly wanders out onto the H-E-B terrace, Cabernet in hand. But though it was 85 degrees on the patio, inside onstage, it was winter. All through Act III, a gentle snow falls on Michael Yeargan's exquisite set. This type of multidimensional stage dress that uses fore-, middle-, and background so beautifully is another reason to buy a ticket. The suspended, lonely cube of the garret against the backdrop of gray Paris sky. The garden outside a home whose metal gate cuts diagonally across the lawn, all under that gently falling snow. The beauty of stagecraft and the drama of music transport us.

When, finally, we return to the garret in Act IV and Mimì dies crying for a warm, winter muff, we've learned something about love and art. Mainly, we've felt something. Vain Musetta sells her earrings to buy what Mimì needs, but tells her instead that they were purchased by her love, Rodolfo, helping her die in peace.

I guess I should've said "spoiler alert." Then again, this isn't Avengers: Endgame, so I don't imagine you'll mind.

La Bohème

Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
Through May 5
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin Opera
Austin Opera's <i>Silent Night</i>
Austin Opera's Silent Night
This production of the Pulitzer Prize winner powerfully creates the tension of the battlefield and just as powerfully lets it go

Trey Gutierrez, Feb. 1, 2019

Austin Opera’s <i>Ariadne auf Naxos</i>
Austin Opera’s Ariadne auf Naxos
Dude ranch antics make this reimagining of Strauss too busy, but when the music takes center stage, it’s gorgeous

Robi Polgar, Feb. 2, 2018

More Arts Reviews
Ground Floor Theatre's <i>Dex & Abby</i>
Ground Floor Theatre's Dex & Abby
In this premiere production of Allan Baker's play, the bond of love between canines and humans is tenderly expressed

Trey Gutierrez, May 24, 2019

"Rosa Nussbaum: Horizonland" at Women & Their Work
The artist draws on her experience as a stranger in a strange land without her own wheels, viewing the world through the lens of a car window

Robert Faires, May 24, 2019

More by Laura Jones
Iron Wolf Ranch and Distillery Offers Bold Flavors Just Outside Austin City Limits
Iron Wolf Ranch and Distillery Offers Bold Flavors Just Outside Austin City Limits
Drinks for the discerning palate and Hill Country views to soothe the soul

May 17, 2019

Austin Playhouse's <i>Summer and Bird</i>
Austin Playhouse's Summer and Bird
This world premiere production gives audiences of all ages the chance to travel to a mythical land of wonders

May 10, 2019


Austin Opera, Michael Yeargan, Noel Bouley, Kang Wang, Andrew Lovato, Elizabeth Caballero, Susannah Biller, Giacomo Puccini

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle