The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

Arts & Culture -

Cairo Opera House’s production of Puccini’s La bohème: Timelessly Relevant

cairo Cairo Opera House egypt Italy La Boheme Performance Puccini
Cairo Opera House’s production of Puccini’s La bohème: Timelessly Relevant
written by
Nada Medhat

When Puccini’s La bohème first premiered in Turin in 1896, it became an instant hit with audiences, although, to critics, it was more of an acquired taste. However, despite the criticism regarding its lack of sophistication, the opera remains one of the world’s most popular, loved by both opera newbies and committed lovers. In Cairo Opera House, this is certainly true, as this opera is one of the most consistently performed across the years.

The narrative, based on Henri Murger’s novel “Scenes de la Vie de Bohème” (Scenes of Bohemian Life), is set in Paris around 1830 and shows the Bohemian lifestyle of a group of artistic friends. It zooms in closely on the love story between the poet Rodolfo, and his neighbour, the seamstress Mimì. A close parallel to their story is that of Marcello, Rodolfo’s painter friend, and Musetta, his on and off lover.

As it often is, the production is double-cast. On the opening night, tenor Enrique Ferrer is captivating as Rodolfo; on stage, his light and rapid movements resemble those of a sugar-high child, which, in our view, is exactly what Rodolfo is, at least at the beginning. 

Throughout the performance, Ferrer’s character, Rodolfo, matures emotionally from the light youth too in love with the illusionary poetry of poverty to a man who faces actual loss, and so does Ferrer’s performance. It metamorphosises with enigmatic effortlessness, never loosening his grasp on the audience. He boasted the top notes and poetic lyricism with precision and ease. 

Despite the strong and precise vocality of his lover, Mimi, it is unconvincing in the skin of soprano Mona Rafla, which becomes one of the few things that might detract from the performance. 

On the other hand, Michela Vervaro, who plays Musetta, better captures the whimsical youthfulness of her character, despite seemingly being within the same range as Mona Rafla. Musetta is energetic and light on her feet, which Vervaro perfectly conveys along with the playful, mischievous nature of the character. She also balances it well with her innocent, good-hearted side. Vervaro’s performance and conveyance of her character matched perfectly with that of her hot-tempered lover, Marcello, played by the baritone Moustafa Mohamed. 

Under the supervision of Mohamed Abdel Razik, the set design and graphics are masterfully done; it’s beautiful and joyful when needed be, and gloomy and gothically picturesque otherwise, perfectly conveying the lifestyle of the characters. 

Despite—or perhaps because of—its melodramatic nature, La bohème remains an audience favourite. The Opera was composed nearly 130 years ago but is still considered highly relevant. To confirm such relevance, there was a rather funny comment uttered by a member of our group, who was watching the opera for the first time with no prior knowledge of it. 

Upon witnessing the second act, set in the Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve, with all the shops open and children and army alike marching in the street, with the square lit, invoking some of the most prominent merriness to be found on stage, they said: “It’s just like Al-Attaba. Reminiscent of Downtown”. This highlights why the opera remains so loved. It was composed by an Italian regarding a cultural sub-group of 19th century France and appreciated in 2022 Cairo. 

The experience with the staff at the Opera House was highly professional through and through. Although, if you intend to have a drink during the break, be prepared to meet ridiculous prices for average, plain tea and coffee.

Puccini’s most well-known opera with a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica and conducted by Elio Oriciuolo, is playing at Cairo Opera House in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo until the 31st of March. Tickets range from EGP 110, 85 and 60. You can book via Tickets Mall or at the Cairo Opera box office.