La Vie Bohème

59. See an opera

Last Thursday night I went to my first opera ever, in the beautiful Wiener Staatsoper – and it is definitely not going to be my last!

Mink and I ended up running to meet Peter and Adi at the opera house because our belly-dancing class ran late (and this class is worthy of its own post, to be sure) and they had already purchased tickets for us for the standing section. The great thing about the standing option is that, although we have to stand for the entire performance, we’re basically right behind the people who paid over 100 euros for their seats, and our tickets were only 4 euros. The acoustics were great, and we were right in the center so we could see the entire stage. Culture on a budget, I love it.

The boys were looking spectacular in their suits, and we were notably underdressed in comparison! The next time I go, I’m getting dressed to the nines, because apparently that’s what people do for a night at the opera, and they do it exceptionally well in Vienna.

I’d walked past the outside of the opera house many times, since the U-Bahn station next to it is where I exit to go to work, and it is truly spectacular:

Wiener Staatsoper

The inside is just as impressive, and if you want to experience the physical embodiment of the word “ornate” then this is the place to be. Peter, our personal expert on the opera, gave us a little history of the opera house — apparently the public hated it when it was being built in the 1860s, so one of the architects committed suicide before it was finished. The other one died of a heart attack a week later, so neither one got to see its completion. Bummer. The entire building was bombed in the war, so there is only one room left of the original blueprint, and it has busts of famous composers lining its periphery.

On this particular night, La Bohème, an Italian opera by Giacomo Puccini, was being performed. Peter gave us a rundown of the storyline after we’d staked out our places at the leaning bar in the standing section, and it turns out that the musical Rent is based on this opera, except tuberculosis is switched out in favour of AIDS and it’s set in the Lower East Side in New York instead of the Latin Quarter in Paris. I was pretty stoked to discover this, since I really like this musical — at least, I like the first part, when things are peachy on the Lower East Side and everyone’s singing “La Vie Bohème.” I admit to vocally accompanying this soundtrack at least once in my lifetime (a horribly low estimate).

Caution: May lead to embarrassing sing-alongs

We kept interjecting Peter’s summary with important questions regarding details from Rent — “So Mimi has AIDS, right?” and “There’s a gay duet about paying the rent somewhere in there, right?” and “And then they sing ‘La Vie Bohème’ in this scene?” Regardless of the answers to all of these questions being “No,” it’s a pretty straightforward plot line: a group of starving artists is still having a good time, a couple of boys meet a couple of girls and fall in love, and someone dies at the end (obviously it’s a woman; that’s just how these things work).

The opera itself was beautiful, and we followed the subtitles on little displays on our leaning bars so the Italian lyrics weren’t lost on us. The performance itself didn’t seem long at all, mainly because it is broken into four acts with a short break between Acts 1 and 2 and then 3 and 4, and a 20-minute intermission in the middle. Although I am relatively new to the whole opera scene (my only exposure prior to this performance was being subjected to multiple terrible—and terribly long—film versions of Don Giovanni for a seminar last year, eugh), but La Bohème was extremely accessible and I loved being pulled into the drama of the story.

And I love cellos, have I mentioned that? There were about six burly dudes with cellos rocking out, if I can say that without offending orchestra enthusiasts. That factor alone made the experience worth my time!

But now I can’t shake the craving to see Rent

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