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A new face to a TIMELESS EPIC Vivien Hewitt

VIVIEN HEWITT returns at the Aurora, with Luke Azzopardi


llica and Giacosa’s Bohème is a timeless story of romance and loss. A struggling young writer falls for a working class seamstress with a terminal illness. Meanwhile, his wild artist friend enjoys an on-off relationship with a good-time girl who, tired of jealousy and possessiveness, finds pleasurable alternatives to his bullish chauvinism. This is the storyline of La Bohème set in a grotty Paris attic with damp creeping up the walls and huge studio windows that look out over a city of smoking chimney stacks. Theirs is a timeless story as much as Puccini’s score is immortal. Fused together, music and lyrics, bring the joint attributes that make a production indisputably epic. This is set to happen this October as the Aurora brings on board, for a second year round, worldrenowned stage director Vivien Hewitt for a new production of La Bohéme. The timelessness of Bohéme is key to her approach in what is to be her first completely new production of the title in several years. She believes that Bohéme “is a timeless opera because love-crossing boundaries, becoming strife, and

sometimes ending in tragedy, is part of our everyday life. I have spent my entire professional life working with Puccini and I first did Bohème as a teenage props lady in a production in Belfast. Yet wherever or however you do the opera – my last production in 2018 was for the state-of-the-art Seoul Arts Center – the opera is full of universal values that know no barrier of time or place. The mad joys of youth and the discovery that life is fragile are experiences that belong to every human life from Paris to Buenos Aires and from Milan to Beijing, as the hundreds of performances of Puccini’s opera worldwide, every year prove to us.” Quite naturally and unsurprisingly, knowing Aurora and the opera-in-Gozo factor, one question automatically pops up: So how do you make the new production of La Bohéme, new… unique and unusual? Hewitt is set to explore the autobiographical elements that abound in the opera. Rather than reading the score and the plot as the audience would, she explores these masterpieces from the point of view of who composed them and tries to make them part of her emotional truth. In fact, she states, she thinks we need to get away from cliché and into the real Paris and Milan of the times of Puccini and his companions. Thus, the Aurora’s new Bohéme will be set in the 1880’s Paris of Puccini rather than in the 1850’s Paris of Henri Murger’s original short stories and drama. We expect to see Paris ‘The City of Light’, a metropolis with bustling streets and a huge amount of night life and street entertainment, very similar to Puccini’s Milan, where the composer studied at the Conservatoire from 1881 to 1884 at a time when the Victor Emanuel Gallery was brand new and the city dominated the world music market. As exciting as this gets, the Aurora Theatre administration, once again paired Vivien Hewitt with the celebrated couturier Luke Azzopardi. While opera aficionados and fashion followers alike still recall the magic of last year’s Tosca golden Te Deum, La Bohéme brings a

The 2018 successful production of Tosca at the Aurora that received rave reviews; a first time collaboration for the Aurora Opera House with stage director Vivien Hewitt and couturier Luke Azzopardi, which is set to recur this time round for La Bohéme. completely different aura, a distinctively different platform, but still a very interesting space where fashion and aesthetics can do more than just make a statement. Indeed, they carry the story with all the emotions of the original creators. Hewitt and Azzopardi have studied with attention artists like Caillebotte, Degas, Renoir and Manet, as well as many contemporary photos of the period of the Paris streets and its people. The sharp distinction between the colourless nondescript ‘worker ants’ of a drab industrial society and the colourful, transgressive personalities who dedicate their lives to the arts and performance will provide plenty of space where the Azzopardi signature is certain to flourish. Mimì, the heroine of Bohème, is the epitome of the female worker ant: modest, quiet, caring and unpretentious, while the other main female character, Musetta belongs to the exuberant world of Café Chantant and the circus arts where Eros meets commerce and social affirmation. During the opera’s short two hours of magnificent music the protagonists will make a gigantic emotional transition from the carefree, individualistic world of bohemian life to sentimental maturity. Vivien Hewitt says: “Over the years I have studied the letters of Puccini, his librettist Luigi Illica and their contemporaries, composer Alfredo Catalani and conductor Arturo Toscanini, and realised to what extent the composer and his librettist wove their own lives into the texture of the story, remembering real incidents and experiences and putting them into the storyline and text.”

The world of Puccini, Illica, Mascagni and Leoncavallo had many points in common with that of French impressionist artist like Lautrec, Renoir and Degas. The composers all played piano, in cabarets as students, and frequented night spots just as risqué as Bal Bullier, Moulin Rouge and the Circus rings of Degas and Surat’s. Puccini was fascinated by Cafe Chantant and would have wanted a chanteuse for Musetta but he knew that the conventional world of opera would never allow him such liberty. “I hope to create a Bohème that captures the spirit Puccini strived to portray and the ensemble work he knew broke all the rules of ‘stand up and sing’ heroic opera to offer the public a very intimate, almost cinematographic story about real, everyday people” she adds. Hence, the 2018 new production of La Bohéme will be set amidst the fascinating Paris architecture that sprang up during the beginning of the Third French Republic’ at the end of the life of Hausmann; architecture that was original, quirky and looked forward to the Art Nouveau movement. La Bohéme at the Aurora promises to be a rollercoaster of emotions. “There will be fun, plenty of laughs”, says Vivien Hewitt, “and at the end, I hope, many a tear shed for the death of Mimì, our gentle and courageous heroine who is the best part of every one of us”. La Bohéme is on at the Aurora theatre, on Saturday October 12, 2019 at 7:30pm. Tickets priced €80, €70, €60 and €50 are available online from www.teatruaurora.com or 79045779.

Profile for The Malta Independent