So What Did You Think?
Students will enjoy starting the class with an open discussion of the Met performance. What did they like? What didn’t they? Did anything surprise them? What would they like to see or hear again? What would they have done differently? This discussion will offer students an opportunity to review the notes on their My Highs & Lows sheet, as well as their thoughts about the use of props in the Met production—in short, to see themselves as La Bohème experts.
That expertise holds special currency, since few operas are produced more frequently, in more theaters around the world, than this one. The Metropolitan Opera company first performed La Bohème while on tour in Los Angeles in the very first year of the 20th century. In fact, the Met archives hold a set of small paintings produced by Puccini’s original publisher, meant to show producers exactly what the characters should wear!
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Met followed those guidelines. Then, over the next three decades, audiences enjoyed three different Metropolitan Opera productions, culminating in 1982 with the Franco Zeffirelli interpretation your students experienced in HD.
Such history creates a special challenge for people writing opera reviews in newspapers and magazines. Movie and pop music critics generally comment on brand new creations. Opera critics, like other critics of classical music, can reflect on past productions—and must distinguish factors built into the libretto and score from factors particular to a given production. In the case of a production like the Met’s Zeffirelli La Bohème, on view for more than a quarter-century, they must even distinguish this year’s cast from earlier Rodolfos and Mimìs.
Using their My Highs & Lows sheets and their notes on props as a starting point, students can review this particular performance and production of the opera. Online research might enable them to consider this performance in the context of other La Bohèmes performed elsewhere. Students might also propose ways to freshen up the production for future audiences. They may even want to think about the differences between watching a Live in HD presentation, with its choreographic assembly of full-stage, partial-stage and close-up views, versus what it might be like to watch the performance first hand in a theater.
After writing, students may enjoy exchanging their reviews and discussing each other’s opinions. They also may want to compare their thoughts to those of The New York Times critic, whose review of the cast in this production can be found at nytimes.com.