Love, Friendship, Feminism: Why Puccini's 'La Boheme' Still Captivates Opera Lovers

Audio: David Rutherford on Puccini's 'La Boheme'

Tess Altiveros, left, and Sonja Krenek sing the lead soprano roles in the Colorado Symphony's semi-staged production of "La Boheme" this weekend.

(Photo: Courtesy Colorado Symphony)

Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” is one of the most beloved operas ever written. It bursts with joy and tragedy.

It’s won over audiences ever since its premiere in 1896, and the audience at Boettcher Concert Hall can experience the music tonightSaturday and Sunday.

The Colorado Symphony is presenting a semi-staged production of the opera. The production’s two leading sopranos -- Sonja Krenek and Tess Altiveros -- said Puccini’s masterpiece is always a thrill for performers as well as listeners.

“It’s so human,” Altiveros said. “You get to see everybody at their worst and at their best and at their most funny and their happiest and their saddest moments. There’s such a connection between these characters.”

Altiveros sings the role of Musetta in the Colorado Symphony production. (Expect props and costumes for the singers, but the orchestra will be onstage rather than in a pit.) Musetta and the other characters are young artists trying to survive in Paris.

Sonja Krenek -- who sings the lead role of Mimi  -- says she’s not intimidated by performing an iconic role. In fact, it’s part of the excitement.

“One of the things I love about opera is that you get to perform a role that has been performed by many many other singers before you,” Krenek said. “But even though the music has been around, no singer will do it the same way. My Mimi is inspired by many great singers, but is uniquely mine.”

Krenek says the character is still relevant today. Mimi faces struggles that many modern women face. She seeks equality, a voice and independence.

“This was not a time when women were out there on their own and doing well on their own,” Krenek said. “And Mimi has been able to survive on her own … and that, to me, reflects an incredible strength.”  

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Like many operas, “La Boheme” is about passion and romances. But Altiveros says the love is not strictly romantic. It’s also about the power of friendship -- something few operas address.

“I just can’t think of another opera where you see it so strongly -- such a sort of human sense of friendship and what it means to be a good friend,” Altiveros said. “The kind of love you see in this story is not just the great love story between the two couples, but it’s also this group of friends who love each other.”

For Krenek and Altiveros, “La Boheme” isn’t just a famous opera or a great singing part. It’s about lovers and friends. Something complicated, real and human.

Find more upcoming live concerts in CPR Classical's events calendar.

CPR