Parisian Bohemia in the 19th century, merry but impoverished, beautiful but heart-aching, came to life at the New National Theatre Tokyo this evening. Produced by Jun Aguni and conducted by Paolo Arrivabeni, the energetic cast and flawless Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra successfully opened the first night of Puccini’s tragic love story, La bohème.

Act I © Masahiko Terashi
Act I
© Masahiko Terashi

Because it is such a well-known opera, one may ask out of preconception, how “lively” the production would be, but it is definitely worth seeing this show, and the performance by the cast and the pit orchestra was invigorating. It was obviously a show put together by perfection-seeking artists from all genres.

Aurelia Florian (Mimì) and Gianluca Terranova (Rodolfo) © Masahiko Terashi
Aurelia Florian (Mimì) and Gianluca Terranova (Rodolfo)
© Masahiko Terashi
Act I began rolling, and the male singers’ unforced and entertaining interaction in the attic until the entrance of Mimì immediately took the audience to 19th-century Paris. Gianluca Terranova as Rodolfo and Aurelia Florian as Mimì developing their characters well, and though many probably already knew how their love story ends, their beautiful voices made you believe there may be a different ending this time. The singers’ voices seemed a little distant, partly due to the astounding pit orchestra's penetrating playing, but the balance settled as the show went on.

Mimì’s Act I entrance is never as dramatic as Musetta's in Act II at Café Momus, and Emi Ishibashi helped make it one of the opera's most memorable scenes. Crowded, joyous and fast-paced music and stage action depicted the bohemian festive café scene ready to receive her virtuosic, alluring voice; and her presence on stage was dynamic. It may have been her high pitched melodic lines, but it seemed that Ishibashi was the only soloist who could out-sing the orchestra. While it may have looked like Musetta stole every scene she was in, male singers such as Fabio Capitanucci as Marcello and Kenji Moriguchi as Schaunard offered consistently high-quality singing. Sensitive accompaniment under the baton of the Arrivabeni was also one of the central key components that elevated the level of this show, and the wide tone colors truly aided in capturing Puccini’s musical world.

At Café Momus © Masahiko Terashi
At Café Momus
© Masahiko Terashi

Another highlight took place at the end of Act III. The scene just opened in the wintry, desolate setting, foreshadowing the sad ending to the story as Mimì only gets weaker. After Rodolfo’s aria, the four voices sang the quartet with painful beauty. Ample emotions were felt from the singers, and the perfectly harmonious music was too beautiful to believe the imminent ending. The last act, back at the Act I attic, brought us to the heartbreaking finale.

Puccini’s music in this opera, never overly emotional or overly simplified, is yet again, is effectively written, weaving the complex human emotions felt when faced with solemnity of life. The cast did a stunning job in recreating and reproducing this masterpiece.