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 over 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 Probes the Power and Perils of Connection With <i>The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs</i>
Austin Opera Probes the Power and Perils of Connection With The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
The local company launches a new collaborative production for the nation

Richard Whittaker, Jan. 28, 2022

Austin Opera Races Back Into Live Performance With <i>Tosca</i> at Circuit of the Americas
Austin Opera Races Back Into Live Performance With Tosca at Circuit of the Americas
The company brings grand opera to the Grand Prix with an outdoor staging of Puccini's powerhouse

Robert Faires, April 30, 2021

More Arts Reviews
Visual Arts Review: “Bending Light” at Women & Their Work
Visual Arts Review: “Bending Light” at Women & Their Work
Texas artists showcase the strength of a story

Cat McCarrey, July 26, 2024

Art Review: “Masters: Calder and Dalí”
Art Review: “Masters: Calder and Dalí”
Rare gems get the chance to shine at Ao5

Cat McCarrey, July 19, 2024

More by Laura Jones
Paradox Players' <i>The Mountaintop</i>
Paradox Players' The Mountaintop
In this powerful production of Katori Hall's drama, MLK wrestles with his life's meaning – and maybe an angel

Feb. 28, 2020

Mary Moody Northen Theatre's <i>The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time</i>
Mary Moody Northen Theatre's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
This moving, transformative show gives its autistic hero a deep and engaging humanity

Feb. 21, 2020


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

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

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