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Reviewed by:
  • La bohème
  • Minou Arjomand (bio)
Giacomo Puccini : La bohème
  • Komische Oper Berlin

  • Production premiere: April 6, 2008

  • Performance reviewed: May 24, 2008

  • Conductor: Carl St. Clair

  • Director: Andreas Homoki

  • Set Design: Hartmut Meyer

  • Costume Design: Mechthild Seipel

  • Lighting Design: Franck Evin

  • Dramaturgy: Bettina Auer

  • German Translation: Bettina Bartz and Werner Hintze

  • Mimì: Brigitte Geller

  • Musetta: Christiane Karg

  • Rodolfo: Timothy Richards

  • Marcello: Mirko Janiska

  • Schaunard: Günter Papendell

  • Colline: Renatus Mészár

Ma foi, non, répliqua Marcel. Je veux bien consentir à regarder le passé, mais ce sera au travers d'une bouteille de vrai vin, et assis dans un bon fauteuil. Qu'est-ce que tu veux? Je suis un corrompu. Je n'aime plus que ce qui est bon!

["But of course," replied Marcel, "I would gladly reminisce about the past, but only over a bottle of good wine, and seated in a comfortable armchair. What you do expect from me? I've become corrupt. I like nothing but that which is good."]

—Henri Murger, Scènes de la vie de bohème

As audience members find their way to their seats, director Andreas Homoki immediately confronts them with the Komische Oper's naked stage. The only hint of a set is snow falling into this void. Yet the stage is far from bare: the lighting exposes its tools—a catwalk along the top of the wall, lighting equipment, switches on the back wall. The void becomes a palimpsest, exposing the traces of generations of performances since Walter Felsenstein's founding of the opera house within the rubble of post–World War II Berlin.

The stage is aligned with Berlin itself, a city characterized over the latter half of the twentieth century by profound emptinesses: the devastation from aerial bombardment, the "death strip" of the cold war's no-man's-land, and the vacant lots of hundreds of construction projects. Andreas Huyssen discusses the city's void character as a historical tradition stretching back to Ernst Bloch's description of life in Berlin as "functions in a void" in his 1935 Erbschaft dieser Zeit. Huyssen proposes a mode of reading the city as a palimpsest, an approach that "implies voids, illegibilities, and erasures, but also offers a richness of traces and memories, restorations and new constructions that will mark the city as lived space."1 [End Page 299]

Located two blocks east of the Brandenburg Gate and two blocks south of the newest large-scale Friedrichstrasse development—the enormous "Upper East Side Berlin" luxury apartment complex—the Komische Oper has an identity that is intimately bound to the city's history. Over the course of two years I spent in Berlin, I had frequent opportunities to observe rehearsals within the house. From conversations with members of the chorus and staff, it became evident that Felsenstein looms mythically large. A revered and paradoxical figure of authoritarian leadership and radical democracy, he would greet each of the janitors by name but would fire ensemble members who became pregnant. Connected to the Felsenstein mythos is a strong memory of the house as East German—a memory that the nearby Staatsoper, founded in 1741 and active during both the Third Reich and the German Democratic Republic, has effectively effaced. Underlying this historical memory may be the relative continuity of leadership thus far: Andreas Homoki, the current artistic director, began his directing career as an intern at the Komische Oper for the former artistic director, Harry Kupfer. The 2007–8 season marked the passing of the torch: together with a new Die Fledermaus, Homoki's La bohème replaced the last Kupfer productions remaining in the repertory.

The music begins suddenly. The conductor Carl St. Clair—as in other Homoki productions, such as Eugen Onegin and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny—is seated within the orchestra, and the house lights turn off simultaneously to the downbeat. Marcello is the first character onstage, running in with two full pails of paint, one of which he immediately flings at the back wall. This initial appearance creates a recognizable social space within the ambiguity of the empty stage. Mechthild Seipel has costumed Marcello in a blue mock turtleneck sweater and...


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pp. 299-306
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