La Bohème film, set in New York with Chinese leads, modernises Puccini’s opera
- Hong Kong group More Than Musical has made its first foray into film with a contemporary reimagining of Puccini’s opera La Bohème
- The group is now preparing to perform a version of Bizet’s Carmen that follows a young woman in a future Hong Kong trying to find her place in the world
A Hong Kong group on a mission to adapt Western operas for modern audiences has made its first foray into film with a contemporary reimagining of La Bohème. The film has been released online and is expected to be hit cinema screens in Hong Kong this autumn.
With live performances on hold for much of last year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, MTM turned to film and made it an international venture – a Hong Kong cultural export to help the group reach new audiences, Hasegawa says.
The diverse cast is led by China-born Bizhou Chang (as Mimi) and Ziwen Xiang (as Rodolfo). Filming was done in the winter of 2020 in locations around New York, a contemporary stand-in for the original setting of 19th century Paris.
MTM partnered with four opera companies in the US (Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Omaha, Opera Columbus and Tri-Cities Opera) and The Grange Festival in Britain, and picked artist and opera director Laine Rettmer to direct the 90-minute film.
The film can be rented online via the website operabox.tv, and will be released in Hong Kong later in the year.
Now that theatres in Hong Kong have reopened, MTM can continue with its live production of Carmen, which was delayed by Covid-19.
Called Carmen | Hong Kong, this adaptation of Georges Bizet’s 19th century work, with Korean mezzo soprano Kim Moon-jin in the title role, gives it a local twist, with Carmen a young woman in an imagined future Hong Kong trying to find her place in the world.
“When people think of Carmen, people think of a seductive gypsy, an exotic Spanish woman in a red dress,” Hasegawa says. “But people must go beyond these features for the story to relate to themselves. We wanted to focus on the human aspect of Carmen, who climbed from the bottom of society, striving to own her life,” she says.
Audiences can expect an intimate, immersive multimedia experience, Hasegawa says, one that she hopes will reshape young people’s perception of opera.
“Our job is not to stick to the original, but rather to keep the same impact intended by the original whilst changing the setting to make people feel part of the performance,” she adds.
The La Bohème film and the live performances of Carmen | Hong Kong have the same goal: to take opera beyond a niche, ageing and elite audience.
“People’s typical perception of opera is that it’s long, boring and difficult to understand,” says Hasegawa. “But, to me, it’s a powerful art form that allows for storytelling through music, singing and staging in a comprehensive way.”
Carmen | Hong Kong, The Box, Freespace, West Kowloon Cultural District, 8pm, July 30-31. Tickets on sale at https://www.westkowloon.hk/