OPERA/LA BOHÈME/CAPE TOWN: G. Puccini’s La Bohème, presented by

Cape Town Opera in collaboration with Konzert Theater Bern, February 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 2020 at Artscape Theatre Opera House.

G. Puccini’s: preview/interview with Matthew Wild

Director: Matthew Wild

Conductor: Jeremy Silver

Orchestra: Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Company: Cape Town Opera and guest artists

Duration: Two hours, 20 minutes

Language: sung in Italian with isiXhosa and English surtitles

Tickets: sold out

Production and other details follow at end of this article.

This production of La Bohème premiered in Switzerland in 2018 at Konzert Theater Bern and received glowing reviews. It was created as a co-production, by Cape Town Opera and Konzert Theater Bern. There were raves for the design-an installation type set which is heightened with references to iconic conceptual art pieces – evoking the New York art scene in the 1960s. (The original setting of the opera is in Bohemian Paris).  DirectorMatthew Wild was praised for his innovative, edgy re-imaging of the opera. He has veered away from a romantic and comedic staging of the opera and foregrounded a face-off between the reckless disregard of many young people for seniors. As you can read from the interview in this article, Wild notes how this is usually brushed away in stagings of this this opera. The negative attitude of the young bohemians to their elders tends to be represented as “Italian comedy”. Wild and his creative team have hinged their production around the dynamic interplay of an old man (Marcello) looking back with longing, regret, shame–how he and his cohort operated. Now he sits and watches his life flash by and he would love to insert himself back and somehow change the trajectory of his life. It is La Bohème as an anguished howl – rather than sweet and happy romp by young bohemians. As Wild says: “This is really what the piece is about: It is the shock of discovering when you are 19 and in your twenties that it is possible to lose someone your own age, who you care about very much and in the process having to really confront your own mortality for the first time.”

After the season in Switzerland, this production of La Bohème was not been staged anywhere else. This is the South African premiere. 

The five performances are sold out in Cape Town, at Artscape for the February season. Sold out? Yup. That is correct. This preview/interview is for those who have their tickets and it is a nudge to those who have missed out: Book for the next Cape Town Opera. Cape Town Opera artistic director, Matthew Wild has been conceptualising extraordinary opera-theatre. He works extensively in Europe, with Cape Town Opera and on a freelance basis. It is not biggie to understand then why his staging of La Bohème is sold out. It has been talked about since November 2018 and when booking opened, those in the know, snapped up the tickets. In addition to the extraordinary company, Cape Town Opera, there are a bunch of illustrious guest artists – international and South African artists.

Matthew Wild reflects about this much talked about La Bohème:

TheCapeRobyn: The concept behind this staging….

Matthew Wild: La Bohème is very much about youth: What it is like to be young and reckless and wanting to be creative. We wanted to ask the question: What could possibly happen to these characters in the decades after the brief period of their life that we see in the opera. So, we imagined that Marcello, the painter, has gone to become a super wealthy, successful conceptual artist.

We have a framing story which begins in a prologue and then re-appears in interludes between the acts of Puccini’s La Bohème. These are in an art gallery, in which they are busy unpacking and installing a retrospective of his life’s work.

The old Marcello is very elderly and is frail, with first signs of dementia showing. He arrives in a wheel chair, with his wife and with his grandson and is left alone in the gallery for a little bit. He starts to have memories, flash backs and hallucinations of his time as a young artist in the 1960s. The world that we evoke is very much inspired by Andy Warhol’s famous Silver Factory in New York, in the 1960s. [Also known as The Factory: This was Warhol’s studio in New York, which was housed in three locations – from 1962 to 1984.]

TheCapeRobyn: Designing La Bohème…

Matthew Wild: Set design is by Kathrin Frosch. Costume design: Ingo Krügler. Both are German. We worked together to create the production, first seen in Bern and it has been wonderful to have both of them in Cape Town, reviving our production.

TheCapeRobyn: Conceptual art landscape as the setting for this staging of La Bohème

Matthew Wild: In this production, we try and draw a very sharp contrast between being young; having no money; having a lot of creative energy and a lot of fire in your belly for creating innovative art- setting that against – some of the absurdities of the contemporary fine art world, in which the works of a certain select few, nowadays reach such gargantuan sums. We have clear references in the pieceto Andy Warhol and more subtle references to some famous artists who have been active from the 1960s until now. Fine art fans will probably get some enjoyment from sifting through the references and sort of, following the clues in the production.

TheCapeRobyn: Looking back in La Bohème, with regret, shame at being young and uncaring

Matthew Wild: There are various parts of La Bohème in which these young people act really badly towards elderly people. This is something which is normally brushed over – as Italian comedy – but with the character of the landlord, Benoit and the wealthy Alcindoro, they are shown as being absolutely ridiculous through the eyes of the young people. They [the young people] seem to think it is ridiculous that older people should still have romantic or sexual desires; that older people actually expect to be paid; the rent that they are due. The four bohemians treat the older characters really badly. Of course the distinctive thing about La Bohème is that these young people are at a stage in their lives when they simply cannot imagine that one of their contemporaries could die. This is really what the piece is about: It is the shock of discovering when you are 19 and in your twenties that it is possible to lose someone your own age, who you care about very much and in the process having to really confront your own mortality for the first time.

What we wanted to do in this production was to really highlight the qualities of youth; the pros and cons of being in your twenties, by setting it into sharp relief, with being much older. Because the entire action is played as hallucinations; memories, flashbacks of the old Marcello, it is laden with regret from him, that he and his friends did not treat the ill any better; did not do more to try to help her [Mimi] in her illness. The interesting thing in the production is – because it is all hallucinations- the further we get into the story- the older Marcello tries more and more to change the course of history. We get a sense of the dissatisfaction with how his younger self behaved. It becomes evident as we see his regrets more and more as he struggles with the way he behaved; all those decades before.

We arrived at this concept for La Bohème by saying: How can we show the recklessness of youth, strongly on stage. It is not always easy in La Bohème to get the wildness of youth across in these bohemian scenes. We thought that the best way to do it was to juxtapose it very strongly with the strong contrast of old age; with its wisdom and its regrets.

TheCapeRobyn: On leaving Cape Town Opera to focus on freelancing opportunities in Europe…

Matthew Wild: I will be wrapping up my artist directorship with Cape Town Opera in March 2021. I am going to be concentrating on my freelance directing career which is getting much busier in Europe. I have three productions on in Europe this year (2020) and the same next year (2021). I will be handing over to a new artistic director in March 2021 but I have sure that I will still be very closely associated with the company. Next year (2021), I think will mark twenty years since I first did work for Cape Town Opera. I have no doubt that I will still be involved in some or other capacity. I am also programming the whole of next year’s season, before I head off in March 2021.

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Opera/travel advisory La Bohème February 2020, Cape Town

Producers: Cape Town Opera presents G. Puccini’s La Bohème in collaboration with Konzert Theater Bern 

Sponsors: Business & Arts South Africa, the City of Cape Town, National Lotteries Commission, the Rupert Music Foundation, Western Cape Government Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport.

Company: Cape Town Opera and featuring international guest artists: Eva Marton – Hungarian dramatic soprano. Award winning Mexican-American tenor Galeano Salas sings the role of Rodolfo. His many awards include the Grand Prix and Audience Award at the 3rdInternational Eve Marton Singing Competition. South African artists include Sarah-Jane Brandon, William Berger, and Thesele Kemane who are not with CTO but are returning artists. Other featured artists include Brittany Smith and Luvo Rasemeni are members of CTO. This production will also feature Cape Town singers Aviva Pelham and Brad Liebl.

Conductor: Jeremy Silver

Orchestra: Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Set design: Kathrin Frosch

Costume design: Ingo Krügler

Lighting design: Kobus Rossouw 

Choreography: Louisa Talbot

Duration: Two hours, 20 minutes

Tickets: R150–R325

Booking: Computicket

Venue: Artscape

Address: Artscape Theatre Centre 

DF Malan Street, Foreshore, Cape Town, 8001


Coming soon – as part of Cape Town Opera 2020 season 

✔️ Fidelio in concert at Artscape Opera House: March 27 and 29, 2020. Tickets R100-R280. Book at Computicket. This production of Ludwig van Beethoven’s sole opera – often tagged as the freedom opera” –  is being performed in honour of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and to commemorate South Africa’s Human Rights Day (March 21).  Johanni van Oostrum will sing her first Leonore. Mandisinde Mbuyazwe takes on the role of Don Pizzaro, the prison governor. Brittany Smith takes on the role of Marzelline.  New narrations have been scribed by Amy Jephta – especially for this production. Jeremy Silver will conduct the Cape Town Philharmonic. 

✔️Così Fan Tutte at the Baxter Theatre:August 18, 19, 20, 21. Tickets: R150-R250. Book through Webtickets. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s iconic comic work is  directed by Steven Stead and features the Cape Town Opera Young Artists and singers from the University of Cape Town Opera School. The UCT Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Jeremy Silver.

✔️ Hänsel und Grete at Artscape TheatreNovember 11, 13, 15, 18 and 21, 2020. Tickets R150-R250. Book at ComputicketHänsel und Gretel-  the opera- is based on the folk tale, published by the Brothers GrimmEngelbert Humperdinck, the German composer of this opera, was a devotee of Richard Wagner and worked with Wagner at Bayreuth. It is an opera which comes with considerable baggage and feeds into the question of how we view art made by individuals with skewed morality belief systems. Anyway, in this production, Cape Town Opera is committed to drawing “on a darker, richer emotional palette than the usual productions of the work. “  Cape Town Opera Young Artist Brittany Smith will sing the role of Gretel. Ané Pretorius performs Hänsel and returning South African Jenni Bank will appear as the children’s mother and the witch.