La Bohème in outer space

Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard and Colline are astronauts on a doomed space ship. The engines are inoperative. Supplies of water and oxygen are running low. In the face of death, they start hallucinating, recalling their carefree but impoverished youth in Paris many years before.

This is the situation in Claus Guth’s staging of La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini at the Opéra Bastille in Paris.

Although I have been a big fan of Claus Guth’s opera productions for many years, I must admit that I didn’t think this one was going to work — until it did.

Intermission in the Opéra Bastille

The first two acts of the opera take place on the doomed space ship. After the intermission, the scene is the barren surface of some lifeless planet, where they have made a forced landing. The hallucinations continue, as Rodolfo and Marcello re-live some of the scenes of their younger years.

In the program book, the dramaturge Yvonne Gebauer points out that the original novel by Henri Murger, Scènes de la vie de bohème — published in 1851 — ends with an epilogue in which the characters, now old and established, look back at their younger years. “Let us take a step further, let us imagine the greatest possible distance: a lot of time has passed, youth is over, it no longer exists. Places have also disappeared, as have the people who once were at the center of life.”

Applause after La Bohème at the Opéra Bastille

In the fourth (= last) act of the opera, only Rodolfo and Marcello were still wearing their space suits, so that is how they appeared afterwards to take their bows. The others, wearing earth-clothes, were meant to be memories / visions / hallucinations. Most people in the audience seemed to understand this. The applause, in any case, was long and enthusiastic.

My photos and text in this post are from 2023.

For more on the German stage director Claus Guth,
see my posts about Operas in Zürich, Switzerland,
and the State Theater on Gärtnerplatz in Munich, Germany.

7 thoughts on “La Bohème in outer space”

  1. Sometimes things work but quite often you need to understand the original first. Here in Oz we have a Shakespearean company that has the characters in jeans and T-shirts and Smith & Wesson revolvers and my secondary students really love it.

  2. Claus Guth has certainly directed some good opera productions that I have seen. But not all attempts at “originality” are truly helpful. And reality is not about memories – but about what happens in the story, and who cares what about it all! Mr Guth wants to be noticed and appreciated. But altering the location of the story is not really “originality” but a sort of desperate attempt to draw attention to yourself as a director of staged productions. The job of theatre and opera directors is to help the performers be as real in the tale, and as convincing as possible in their characterisation to the audience as they can be. Direction when good is NOT about attention-seeking by and for the director!

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