Parlando: The COC Blog

9/12/2013

La Bohème in Pop Culture

By Meighan Szigeti, Associate Manager, Digital Marketing

Like Wagner's Die Walküre before it, Puccini’s La Bohème is one of those popular operas that seeps into our pop-culture subconscious. Many audience members who are new to opera might hear a duet or an aria from La Bohème and suddenly exclaim “oh THAT’S where I’ve heard that!” or “That was in Moonstruck?! Wow, I need to become more cultured.”

Well, that last point may not be the case... but if you find yourself wondering if La Bohème is well represented in TV and movies (aside from Rent, let's focus on the lesser-known references you may have missed), here are a few examples of where you have have seen Puccini’s most-performed opera referenced by other pop-culture creators:

The Simpsons

It took The Simpsons almost 19 seasons to do it, but in episode 402, opera finally makes a significant appearance! In "The Homer of Seville" episode, Homer finds himself unexpectedly acquiring new operatic singing abilities after an injury — but only when he’s lying down. His singing impediment does require a bit of a rewrite of the libretto (“Rudolfo, why are you lying down?” “I hurt my foot.”), but Monty Burns (General Director, Artistic Director and founder of the Springfield Opera) doesn't seem to mind. Even opera stars like Plácido Domingo, or “P Dingo” as he calls himself, made an appearance in that episode and Homer became an opera star — for a short time.

There may have been a few rewrites...

Moonstruck


Nic Cage and Cher in front of the Met in Moonstruck.

Remember Moonstruck? It’s easy to think of the famous “Snap out of it!” scene, but Moonstruck uses opera and La Bohème to illustrate a heartbreaking and even illicit passion between Nick Cage’s character Ronny to Cher’s Loretta. (If you don’t remember — in short, Loretta is engaged to Ronny’s estranged brother Johnny, a very operatic plot-line.) As Loretta watches Mimì's heartbreak unfold, her own heart breaks as she realizes her connection to Johnny is a love she also must leave behind. (Trivia time! The opera scene was shot in the Elgin Theatre and the Mimi and Rodolfo on stage are played by Ensemble Studio grads John Fanning and Martha Collins!)

"Listen, under the pillow I left my pink bonnet."
"Se vuoi, Se vuoi" (It's yours, it's yours)"

"Keep it as a memory of our love."
"Addio, addio senza rancor." (Goodbye, no regrets).

Talk about a meta-heartbreak scene.

Kate and Leopold


“Why yes, this is my time-travelling steed…”

Not exactly the finest of movies, but even La Bohème has its place in this cheesy romcom. Kate and Leopold is a story about a time-travelling Duke (Hugh Jackman) from the 19th century who winds up in the 21st century and falls in love with a cynical 21st century woman, played by Meg Ryan. Yes, you read that right. However, by using his knowledge of La Bohème, Leopold schools a rival for Kate’s affections, correcting Kate’s arrogant boss in his many mistakes when talking about Puccini’s masterpiece (though here’s some movie trivia for you: according to moviemistakes.com, Leopold was from 1876 — twenty years before La Bohème even premiered. Maybe he read a little bit of Murger's La vie de bohème, which inspired the opera?) But, oh well, he showed up his lady love’s jerky boss and subsequently won over the girl!

As you can see, references to La Bohème are everywhere. Another favourite? When "O Soave Fanciulla" is used in a key scene in Atonement. But did you also know the music from La Bohème was also used in action movies Deep Impact and The Deerhunter? What are your favourite pop culture references for La Bohème? Let us know in the comments! 

You can learn more about our fall production of Puccini's oft-referenced opera here

Photos: (top) Simpsons, 2007. 20th Century Fox ;(middle) Simpsons, 2007. 20th Century Fox; (middle) Moonstruck, 1987. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; (bottom) Kate and Leopold, 2001. Miramax Films.

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in La Bohème / comments (0) / permalink

9/11/2013

Opera in Schools: The COC @ Howard Park Jr. P.S.

By Vanessa Smith, School Programs Manager

While it’s true that every child is different, there is one thing about children that stays pretty constant - they’re always on the move! Running, playing, dancing, fidgeting – movement is always present in their bodies and minds. When tackling a subject like opera, which can be difficult and foreign to younger students, it’s good to “start from where you are” – in this case, we decided to start by getting moving!

About a year ago, Howard Park Junior Public School approached the COC education and outreach team to discuss ways to give their entire school an opera experience. In consultation with the school’s Arts Council and teachers, we came up with a plan to teach sections of the dance curriculum through opera workshops this spring. Each class, including both French immersion students and English students, would participate in two to three workshops over the course of three weeks in March and April.

Music teacher Wendy Spademan worked with the students in their music classes to get them familiar with the music, plot and characters of the operas. French classes learned about Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, while the English classes explored Dean Burry’s The Brothers Grimm, which they saw in the fall as part of the Glencore Ensemble Studio School Tour. COC artist educators then visited each class, from JK – Grade 6, to explore the operas further.


Artist educator Meara Tubman-Broeren leads a kindergarten class through a movement exercise.

Artist educators Meara Tubman-Broeren and Sarah Joy Bennett took the students on a journey through each of the operas using movement, drama, and dance. Students played dance tag, created character bodies, explored how emotions are tied to movement, depicted characters in the operas by creating statues and tableaux, and explored the connections between storytelling and music. It was very evident that the students were having a great time during the workshops, and you could also see how they were thinking about and connecting with the work.


Artist educator Sarah Joy Bennett helps a group of students shape their tableau.


Students pose as statues of various emotions during their workshops.

In the video below, Wendy and Meara explain a bit more about the process and why Wendy wanted to expose her students to opera.

 

In total, the COC ran 69 workshops as part of this project, and helped introduce approximately 550 students to opera. The best part is how much the students enjoyed it! Programs like these help to ensure an appreciative opera audience in the future. Thanks to Wendy, Meara, Sarah Joy, and the parents and students at Howard Park. We can’t wait to see these students at an opera performance in a few years!

Vanessa Smith is the COC's School Programs Manager. To discuss bringing opera workshops to your school, give her a call at 416-306-2392 or send an e-mail to education@coc.ca. Further information on our Education & Outreach programming can be found at coc.ca/Explore

Photos: All photos by the COC.

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Education / comments (0) / permalink

9/10/2013

European Summer Festivals: Part 1

By Alexander Neef, General Director

Firstly, my apologies that these posts are a little behind, but while I was in Europe I managed to see 12 operas over 13 days in five cities and, in the end, there’s so much to write about that I will have to recount my trip over the course of a few posts.

My summer tour began with a production of Nabucco at Opera di Roma, conducted by a Verdi master, Riccardo Muti. His performance was absolutely incredible with every detail of Verdi’s score lovingly explored. It’s amazing how a great conductor can make even pieces you’ve heard many, many times sound fresh and exciting.

Bayreuth was next.

Wagner is everywhere!
Wagner is everywhere!

Going to Bayreuth is kind of like making a pilgrimage. Wagner chose this provincial town to build his theatre and premiere his works in a place where, although lovely, there isn’t much else to do beyond seeing opera! Then, he built the Festspielhaus on top of a hill on the edge of town, forcing a walk up to the theatre. Although the town has never been convenient to get to (irregular train service, no nearby airports), going to Bayreuth is a commitment that people, even after 130 years, continue to make today.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Bayreuth this year was to see Eva Wagner Pasquier. Eva is the great-granddaughter of the composer, and was the artistic administrator at the festival in Aix when I was working at the Paris Opera, and since she took the job in Bayreuth I’ve been promising that I would come to visit. She’s a good friend, and she’s always been a huge font of information on new, young singers. She’s now a specialist in new Wagnerian talent, so she’s also a great resource for us in this capacity too.

I was privileged to be able to attend a few dress rehearsals during my four-day visit which, given the huge demand for tickets, was an honour. As it turns out, dress rehearsal week is a special one because it also happens to be the time when so many previous and current generations of Wagner singers come to visit too. In fact, the very first person I saw as I was sitting outside my hotel was Hanna Schwarz, our amazing Herodias in Salome. Hanna was the Erda and Fricka in the original Patrice Chereau Ring Cycle, performed from 1976 – 1980, and she comes every year for dress rehearsal week.

And it’s not just singers. Two mornings in a row I had coffee with Bernd Loebe, Johannes’s old boss at Frankfurt. Another old acquaintance I met on the hill was Dominique Meyer who I know from my Paris days when he was the director of the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. He’s now the director of Vienna State Opera and, because it’s such a huge company with so many singers, conductors and directors going through it each season, he is, like Eva Wagner, an invaluable resource and a great colleague.

My first evening, I saw Die fliegender Holländer conducted by the great Christian Thielemann. He hardly performs in North America anymore, so it was a rare chance to see him live. Thielemann brings so much understanding to the piece and created so much excitement with it, really capturing the romanticism of the music, even to the point of making it sound almost like Weber. It was a real pleasure to see Franz-Josef Selig (as Daland) again after his extraordinary performances with us last winter in Tristan und Isolde.

I was glad that I finally got to see Hans Neuenfels’s production of Lohengrin for myself. Now in its fourth year, it is both famous and infamous for many reasons, not the least of which are the rat costumes the chorus wears for the entire opera. Having said that, the bridal chamber scene is one of the most intense stagings of an operatic scene I have seen in a while. Conductor Andris Nelsons is an up-and-coming conductor with a great reputation, but I hadn’t seen him before and I was really impressed at how wonderfully the orchestra worked with him.

I couldn't resist!
I couldn't resist!

By designing his Festspielhaus in the now-popular one-level fan shape, Wagner essentially made the first innovation to theatres since the Italian multi-leveled, horseshoe-shaped houses of the 17th century. But it’s in his brilliantly conceived, covered orchestra pit that Wagner’s architectural genius really bears fruit. The beginning of Das Rheingold in the Festspielhaus never fails to impress, with the sound seeming to emerge out of nowhere from the invisible orchestra. Magic.

This year’s new Ring Cycle is directed by Frank Castorf, who sets Rheingold in a motel on Route 66 with the gods waiting at the motel for Valhalla to be finished. The set is quite efficient and there is live video to allow the public to follow scenes that don’t happen in direct view of the auditorium. The dress rehearsal for Die Walküre was closed to the public, but I was very grateful that Eva Wagner gave me the opportunity to watch Act I and II on the house TV in their donor lounge.

Much has been made of the critical reception of this Ring, so it will be interesting to return to it in a year or two to see how things have evolved. Many Ring Cycles, including Chereau’s now-classic production, received venomous reviews in their first season.

Photos: (top) Alexander Neef; (middle) Little Wagners at Bayreuth; (bottom) Alexander Neef meets a Wagner statue. Photo credits: (top) bohuang.ca; (middle, bottom) Alexander Neef.

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Alexander Neef / comments (0) / permalink

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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001