When my parents died within days of each other my ability to create came to an abrupt halt. I could no longer paint. I did not have the emotional energy. The trauma of the deaths had run my creative well dry.
It took 2 years to get me back into the studio. It was a difficult re-entry. It was as if a muscle I had once used on a regular basis no longer worked. I felt that my emotional and spiritual connection to painting lay behind deep layers of fog – vaguely visible, but wholly unreachable. During this testing time, however, one thing remained constant. And that was listening to the opera, La Bohème.
I played La Bohème on a constant loop for over a year as I reintegrated myself into the world of paint. My father had brought us up listening to opera and Puccini was his favourite composer. So perhaps it was an attempt to link with my missing parent that caused me to play this opera over and over. I don’t really know. All I knew was that this music somehow supported, nurtured and held me as I attempted my return to the mystical, mysterious land of painting.
So when the chance to create paintings for a theatre bar came my way, La Bohème was the first thing to leap into my mind. my paintings for the Astor theatre
My starting point was colour – it is always colour. And to me La Bohème is an opera of celebration, passion, struggle, life and death … and VIBRANT COLOUR. Jonathan Miller did a production of it in 2009 . I was very excited to see it as I had adored Miller’s 1986 production of Puccini’s Tosca set in Nazi-occupied Rome in 1944. However I was to be visually disappointed with this La Bohème, and mainly because the whole production was virtually monochrome. a review of Miller’s 2009 production
No! No! No! La Bohème begins on Christmas Eve in a Parisian garret of the 1830s where live struggling artists – a Painter, a Poet, a Musician and a Philosopher. It is full of high drama, intense passion and heart-wrenching emotional peaks and troughs. It needs passionate colours. It needs colours that will sing to the same level as this fabulously theatrical work.
I knew I needed to choose colours that would communicate my passion for and complete devotion to this opera. I chose Gold and Silver – the connection of the artist to the divine; Red and Green – passion and hope, as well as Christmas; snow White and Midnight Blue – the chill but also the potential of the garret and on a deeper level, death and life. I wanted the painting to pulse with energy, to communicate and to celebrate the intensity of Puccini’s most passionately romantic of operas.
Together with the colours, there are the symbols. It has the garret skylight beyond which is the midnight sky, the candlelight, Mimi’s lost key, the staircase to the garret, the artist’s disciplines, Musetta’s shoe, a large glass of wine and Mimi and Rodolfo huddled in the snow.
Undoubtedly my single most favourite part of La Bohème is an intentionally dramatic aria by Musetta, the former lover of Marcello, the Painter. The Bohemians are in a café when Musetta makes an attention-seeking entrance on the arm of her sugar daddy, Alcindoro. The ensuing tumult reaches its peak when, trying to gain Marcello’s attention, she sings a waltz about her popularity. Complaining that her shoe pinches, she sends Alcindoro off to fetch a new pair. The moment he is gone, Musetta falls into Marcello’s arms.
At the private view for the Astor theatre paintings, 2 young daughters of a friend came up to me and told me that, because of the staircase and the shoe in the painting, they had thought it was about Cinderella.
I was thrilled!
That a shoe and a staircase could say so much. The power of semiotics!