Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Giacomo Puccini

'Mycobacterium tuberculosis'...

The zefirellish ACT II of "La Bohème" at the Teatro Real..

MayaMalinkaRusskaya had never seen "La Bohème" live and on top of that she had not set foot on the Teatro Real yet. After lengthy appraisal on-line of all the available seating options I managed to get two Butacas de Patio (Stalls, 4th row) which have cost me around six times the price of a first class DVD of the same opera.
As is the case with every B+ operahouse in the world (A+ being Glyndebourne, Met, Scala and Bayreuth; and A being Covent Garden, Salzburg, Palais Garnier, etc.) an academic merchant-ivorish lavish production is a bit of a bore. Only exceptional singers can carry with them boring ruskin-approved art directions, and we all know B plus opera houses cannot afford exceptional singers. Am I being snobbish here? Shouldn't one visit a zoo after having been on a safari? Of course one should. There's always something new coming to your mind when you are in automatic listening mode during Act IV ( I guess if one was listening to Mirella Freni playing Mimi one would never found oneself in automatic mode..).
This time, as Mimi (the rather wonderful Inva Mula) was dying of consumption in between some really amazing pianissimi, I thought of my old friend, the Koch Bacilus . In this blogger of yours' previous life some afternoons of his Microbiology-related job were spent teaching a dozen medical students the lab tricks of a diagnostic of Tuberculosis. Compared with the relatively plain methods to isolate "plain" bacteria the colourful paraphernalia needed to deal with TB was a sure hit among students. I guess that at this point I should mention also the young soldier dying from a multiresistant strain in the room next to the Room-of-the-Officer-on-Duty at the Military Hospital for Infectious Diseases where I was resting - but, even twenty years later, that slow asphyxia intertwined with paroxistic anxious cough it's too painful to evoke ).
An idea came to my mind as Musette was leaving the scene to satisfy Mimi's last wishes: mass popular culture ( like Opera in the XIX century or movies nowadays ) requests a dying young main character expiring from the disease-of-the-age. Mimi was dying from Tuberculosis, as Ali Mc Graw was dying from Leukemia (in "Love Story") and as Tom Hanks was dying from AIDS (in "Philadelphia").
I thought I had just stricken blogging gold so I turned off my automatic pilot and proceed to enjoy the dying moments of Puccini's "La Bohéme"..
Now, the day after, I realize, once again, that there's a book or a paper published somewhere about that very same idea you took for reasonably original. After googling "Opera + tuberculosis", as an honest researcher toiling to impress positively the Right Honourable Reader should do, I came across a reference to "Opera: Desire, Disease and Death" by Louise and Michael Hutcheon.
In that book, co-written by a Professor of Literature (Louise) and her medical husband, Michael, a Professor of Medicine, one can find chapters on "The tubercular heroine" (in La Boheme and La Traviata), or syphilis and Parsifal or on pox and Lulu and Rake's Progress . It looks it might justify some Amazon-ordering.
Agony is a powerful ingredient indeed not only in novel-writing but on libretto-writing too (and in script-writing for sure). It remains a quintessential element of melodrama and an almost unfairly easy device to provoke a strong emotional response from the public (novel-reader, opera-goer or movie-watcher.)
Leaving these mental digressions aside, was the instillation of Puccini's music in Scenes of Bohemian Life worth the evening out in Teatro Real? A qualified yes.

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