Might Giacomo Puccini win a Tony Award for Best Score next season? Stranger things have happened! The great Italian opera composer could conceivably be eligible for the honor in June 2003--though it's doubtful he'll be there to accept it in person, as he died in 1924. And why is this? Well, it was announced yesterday (January 21) that a new production of Puccini's 1896 opera La Bohème directed by Baz Luhrmann will open at the Broadway Theatre on December 8, 2002. This news came the day after Luhrmann took home a Golden Globe award for having directed Moulin Rouge--which, depending on who you talk to, is either a brilliant reinvention of the movie musical or an inane stylistic mish-mash.
Luhrmann's other film credits include Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Romeo + Juliet (1996). The major inspiration for his Broadway Bohème, no doubt, is the production of the beloved work that Luhrmann directed in 1990 for the Sydney Opera. Subsequently telecast in the U.S., that Bohème featured a notably young and attractive company of singer/actors, and the same approach will be taken for the Broadway version. "When Puccini and his librettists created La Bohème, opera was actually the popular entertainment of the day," says Luhrmann. "With our cast of young singers, we hope to tell this story in a way that will appeal not only to the people who love Puccini's music but to the younger audiences who may never have seen an opera before."
It's interesting to note that Luhrmann drew on the plot of Bohème (not to mention the plot of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata) in conceiving Moulin Rouge, which concerns a consumptive Parisian woman who throws herself into a passionate, troubled relationship with a young man before breathing her last. Sharp-eyed folks may have noticed that at least one major scenic element of Luhrmann's Bohème for the Sydney Opera turned up in Moulin Rouge: namely, the word "L'amour," spelled out in a huge electrical sign on the roof of a building. It's even more interesting to note that two of the producers of the Broadway Boheme are Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum, who also produced Rent. That Jonathan Larson rock opera is based on Bohème but has an entirely original score (except for a recurring guitar riff drawn from Musetta's waltz aria in the Puccini work).
Theatergoers whose memories go back a lot further than the opening of Rent know that Baz Luhrmann's new Bohème does not mark the first time that the opera has been reconceived as a popular musical theater entertainment for New York audiences. In 1984, the Public Theater presented an adaptation of the work in an excellent English translation by David Spencer, with Linda Ronstadt and Patti Cohenour alternating in the role of Mimi. The cast also included David Carroll as Rodolfo, Howard McGillin as Marcello, and Cass Morgan as Musetta. One big difference between that show and the one we'll see at the Broadway Theatre in December is that the latter will be sung in Italian, with English surtitles.
Like Luhrmann's Bohème for Sydney Opera, the new production will be set in Paris in the 1950s; it had at one time been announced as a possible entry in the current Broadway season. The creative team includes Constantine Kitsopoulos as music director and principal conductor, Catherine Martin (who worked with Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge and other projects) as set designer, Martin and Angus Strathie as costume designers, and Nigel Levins as lighting designer. According to a press release, "an international casting search for La Bohème began last year and the cast will be announced shortly."