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PUCCINI’S LA BOHÈME has been a recurring opera here at SimanaitisSays. Yesterdays’s Part 1 described its 1977 TV premiere; “Create One’s Own La Bohème” was D.I.Y. Today in Part 2, this popular opera has contrasting renderings by Franco Zeffirelli and Pacific Opera Project, both memorable.

The Zeffirelli Bohème. As described by Tiziano Thomas Dossena in, “The intricate set designed by the famed movie director and artiste par excellence Franco Zeffirelli [1923–2019] serves many purposes: It creates the proper settings for the story as originally described in the libretto; it offers a thrilling visual experience; it is designed for an optimal movement of the singers; and in the second act, it allows an unbelievable amount of people on stage without any encumbrance.”

Above, the Act II Cafe Momus in the 1977 Met’s TV La Bohème premiere. Below, the Zeffirelli production of the same scene.

The Met Opera Family Archives shares the views of Thor Ekert, Jr., from The Christian Science Monitor: “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.” 

Other Zeffirelli La Bohème settings are also memorable. 

Act I, the Zeffirelli bohemians’ garret.

The contrast is particularly striking in Act III’s winter scene at the toll barrier to the city.

Act III, the toll gate at the Barrière d’Enfer, late February. Above, the 1977 production. Below, the Zeffirelli production of the same scene.

POP’s La Bohème AKA “The Hipsters. Pacific Opera Project’s holiday 2020 La Bohème swaps 1830s Paris for SoCal’s eclectic Highland Park neighborhood (home of Highland Park Ebell Club, the regular POP venue, and also Mason’s Dumpling Shop, home of the world’s finest dumplings). 

POP’s hipster rendering of the classic tale is sung in Italian with piano accompaniment. Supertitles are replete with inside jokes: “Look at this worthless heater. It works just about as well as the U.S. Congress.” The set design contains hidden meaning as well. 

Mimi (Orinana Falla) and Rodolfo (Arnold Livingston Geis) meet outside the Barrière cafe in Act III.

This Southern California opera company’s innovative productions have already appeared here at SimanaitisSays, among them The Elixir of Love and The Magic Flute and Madame Butterfly.

The Highland Park digs of, from left to right, Colline (Keith Colclough), Rodolfo (Arnold Livingstone Geis), Marcello (Ben Lowe), and Schaunard (E. Scott Levin).

Given pandemic complexities, POP’s 2020 La Bohème AKA “The Hipsters” had Drive-in Performances, December 12 and 13, 2020, in the parking lot of the Camarillo United Methodist Church, some 60 miles west of its usual Highland Park Ebell Club venue. 

As is evident from its YouTube viewing, a good time was had by all at POP’s La Bohème AKA “The Hipsters.” You could tell from the horn-beeping accolades at 1:35 on the YouTube. ds  

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

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