"TIMES Talks," a new speaker series sponsored by the New York Times, is geared towards increasing cultural awareness. On Friday, Oct. 15, a discussion was held that compared the Broadway musical Rent to its original source material, the Puccini opera La Boheme.
New York Times classical music critic Anthony Tommasini moderated the event, and the panelists were representatives of the two pieces being discussed. Paul L. King, of the New York City Opera, which currently has a production of La Boheme in its repertoire, was there to represent the opera side of discussion. One of Rent's producers, Jeffrey Seller, was also on hand to make sure the Broadway musical was fairly represented.
Each man stated his view of how the musical has affected perceptions of the opera and vice versa. Tommasini was probably the last person to speak with Jonathan Larson, the composer of Rent, before he died on January 24, 1996. It was the last day of dress rehearsals for the off Broadway production, and Tommasini was there to interview Larson for the New York Times. Among the last words to Mr. Tommasini that Larson spoke were, "It's not how many years you live, but how fulfilling your time spent here is." Tommasini's review in the Times helped spark other critics' interest in seeing the show.
For his part, Mr. King made it clear that although Larson chose the same ideas and story line as in the opera, Rent is very original and touching in its own way. Producer Seller commented that the characters and story lines were very similar, and he could see the distinctions, but the life of a struggling artist in 1990s New York is much more complex and difficult than that of 1800s Parisian citizens, so Rent has much more dramatic resonance.
The Oct. 15 event included a performance from each piece. Robin Fallman, who is currently playing Musetta in City Opera's Boheme, performed "Musetta's Waltz," which is very similar to Rent's "Take Me or Leave Me." The latter was performed by current cast members of the Broadway production, Cristina Fadale and Danielle Lee Greaves. The two are the current Maureen and Joanne, respectively. After a short question and answer session, the crowd was dismissed with goodie bags that included compact discs of La Boheme and Rent highlights, as well as discount offers to both productions, on Broadway and at City Opera. More importantly, the people attending were left with a better awareness of both these major works, and how they have affected one another.