April is Poetry Month.
April also signals the return of flowers, and there were flowers in a small window box on the set of La Bohème in a rebroadcast from the New York City’s Metropolitan Opera at the local movie theatre this past week. The music from Puccini’s most popular opera might sound familiar to most, and the set design by Franco Zefferelli has been impressing audiences since its Christmas Eve reveal in 1981:
When the curtain rose on the second act of Franco Zeffirelli’s new production of ”La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera, the audience erupted in a roar of acclaim, amazement, and even disbelief – a roar that went on for nearly a minute. (Christian Science Monitor)
That is not to say that the sets for Act I were any less spectacular. The details accurately depicted the dim squalor of a Parisian garret in 1840s. The lovely seamstress Mimi, looking for a light for her candle, meets the handsome Rodolfo in a darkened room. She, painfully shy; he, eager to impress. I thought of #poetryfriday as he sang the following:
Who am I?
I am a poet.
What do I do here? I Write.
And how do I live? I live
in my contented poverty,
as if a grand lord, I squander
odes and hymns of love.
In my dreams and reveries,
I build castles in the air,
where in spirit I am a millionaire.
Yet sometimes from my safe,
all my gems are stolen
by two thieves, a pair of lovely eyes!
They entered with you just now! (La Boheme: Puccini)
The blend of the visual with the Puccini’s score is as breathtaking in 2014 as it was in 1981 as the review in the Christian Science Monitor explained:
Stage designer-director Zeffirelli has quite literally re-created a typical Montmartre hill street in Paris, circa1840. Rarely has the Met stage been more brilliantly used. The set is on three levels, with Cafe Momus on the ”ground” level receding back under the set. A huge staircase is on the audience’s left, the chorus milling around above the indoor Momus, and there is another large staircase in the back right-hand corner of the set. By the end of the act, the audience had interrupted three more times with applause for the Zeffirelli spectacle – which culminated in a huge parade, bringing some 240 people onto the Met stage.
The trailer below promotes the rebroadcast using the same Zefferelli’s sets:
During the three 20 minute intermissions, the cameras kept rolling backstage. The audience was able to watch stagehands from Local One, lighting technicians, prop managers maneuver the three movable stages; a team of set “touch up painters” crawled all over the sets, addressing any nicks to the rooftops and snow scenes of Zefferelli’s 33 year-old design. These minutes watching the crew and actors wander backstage are a literal peek behind the curtain, and it is a very low tech peek. So low tech, in fact, that the stage manager admitted that the snowfall during Act IV on Zefferelli’s moonlit set is generated by paper confetti in a bag with small slits. Making snow means a stage hand, “rubs the bag so the paper snow falls out.”
In La Bohème’s Acts III and IV, Mimi and Rodolfo’s passion reaches heights of jealousy, but they decide their love means they should stay together; they will stay warm together through the winter. They will part in the spring….when the flowers bloom.
We’ll part when it’s
the season for flowers again…
… when it’s the season for flowers again..
I wish winter would be everlasting!
When the curtain for Act V opened, my friend whispered, “See the flowers in the window box?” Sadly, the cheerful red blossoms signaled that the lovers had broken up; it was April. Mimi and Rodolfo were not together, her illness contributing to the separation. But Puccini used the vibrant Musetta to reunite the lovers in the garret, and the final duet had them remembering their first encounter:
You were frightened and nervous!
Then you lost your key…
So to try and find it, you
had to grope your way around…
…and I hunted and hunted.
My fine young man,
Though now I can say;
it was found in an instant…
I helped destiny…
It was dark; and so you
didn’t see my blushes…
(she whispers the words of Rodolfo)
“This little hand is frozen…
let me warm it here in mine…”
In the darkness
you held my hand to warm it…
Such imagery. Such beautiful language. Even in opera, April is Poetry Month.