Rentheads see where it all began Puccini’s “La bohème” At Theater Latté Da

Siena Forest and Benjamin Dutcher. Photo by Dan Norman.

My headline is meant to grab your attention rather than being completely accurate. While La bohème (1896) the Opera is the inspiration for Jonathan Larson’s masterpiece Rent (1996), it isn’t the ultimate source of the material. La bohème is itself based on the novel Scènes de la vie de bohème (1851) by Henry Murger. It’s part of the creative act to reinterpret, adapt and reinvent that which has come before. There is no West Side Story for example without Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We need to look no further than Steven Spielberg’s new film adaptation to see that even just producing a new version of an existing work can revitalize it and find new things to say to an audience. Rent isn’t the only modern work that has taken inspiration from La bohème. Baz Luhrmann who directed a very popular production of La bohème has acknowledged it as one of many inspirations for his musical film Moulin Rouge! (2001). Acknowledging these antecedents and understanding the role that they have on creative work is important in understanding the act of creativity. What a treat it was to experience La bohème for the first time in Theater Latté Da’s intimate new reimagining.

La bohème is the story of a group of poor struggling artists living in Paris, in this production set during the Nazi occupation. Rodolfo a writer and Marcello a painter share a garret which they heat by burning the pages of Rodolfo’s writings. Their friends Colline and Schaunard arrive, Schaunard has had a windfall and comes bearing food, wine and money. When the landlord arrives asking for the rent, they flatter him and loosen his tough with wine, they get him to tell of his romantic assignations. After admitting to some he also reveals he is married. The friends feign indignation and order him to leave before he corrupts them with his immoral behavior. And thus they avoid paying the rent. Three of the friends head to the Cafe Momus to celebrate, Rodolfo stays behind to finish writing an article before joining them. There’s a knock on the door, it is Mimi a neighbor who’s candle has gone out. It’s love at first sight for Mimi and Rodolfo they go to join his friends at the Cafe Momus where we are introduced to Marcello’s ex Musetta. The rest of the Opera will follow the ups and downs of these relationships.

The more Opera I see the more I become attuned to it. La bohème is performed in Italian with the lyric’s projected above the action. This works surprisingly well. The style of Opera singing, the words are held for longer, this allows you to read the lyrics and then still be able to take in the performances. Everyone in the cast are fine vocalists. There are several roles which have alternate performers depending on the day. The performance I attended featured Siena Forest and Benjamin Dutcher as Mimi and Rodolfo (pictured in the Photo above) Forest was an excellent Mimi, aside from her voice which was beautiful, she conveyed a sense of adoration for Rodolfo in a performance that began in her eyes and radiated outward from there. Dutcher is a favorite that I seem to be seeing everywhere lately, a performance at Crooners in the summertime and just last month, also at Theater Latté Da in All is Calm. He really captured the emotional devastation that results from the final moments of the opera. Tony Potts as Marcello seemed to almost steal the spotlight every time he appeared. He is not an actor I’m familiar with but I hope to see more of him. He has a commanding stage presence without being over the top or seeming to ask for attention. Whether playing for the laugh, his supposed indifference to Musetta at the Cafe Mosu, or being the sincere confidant, his conversations with Mimi and Rodolfo in Act III. Though not given as much stage time both Rodolfo Nieto as Colline and Justin Anthony Spenner as Schaunard shine. Bergen Baker’s Musetta has the most outlandish role, she gets to really play it up in her first scene which is very entertaining. But also is really effective in the quieter moments in the final Act.

It’s hard to criticise what is one of the most performed and popular Opera’s in the world, especially one that has had as much influence on future artists. I did feel like the final Act is a little long, maybe it’s knowing what is coming that makes it feel that way. As for this production I really enjoyed the scenic design by Michael Hoover and Lighting by Grant E. Merges. The Director Peter Rothstein has done his usual top notch job making the time period and it’s baggage inform plot points and add a new level of meaning to certain character motivations. Sonja Thompson’s musical direction is tight and perfectly compliments this smaller more intimate staging of an opera. She creates everything needed with just a piano, Guitar, Woodwinds, Violin, and an Accordion. For fans of Rent who have never seen an opera don’t be afraid. this is a great introduction to the form, you will find that you are familiar with much of the story and thus will not have trouble following what is going on. A tip always when attending the opera, get there early enough that you have time to read through the complete synopsis in the program.

Theater Latté Da’s production of La bohème runs through February 27th for more information and to purchase tickets go to