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“Period Essence” La Bohème from BOC


In an unusual gesture, Boston Opera Collaborative is granting free admission to its production of Puccini’s La Bohème for anyone displaying an unused season ticket to a performance of the late, lamented Opera Boston. For this 16th show since BOC’s founding in 2006, the familiar artists’ garret and Café Momus will be evoked on the stage of Mass Art’s Tower Auditorium, beginning tomorrow, March 2ndLa Bohème runs this weekend and next. Details are below and in BMInt’s “Upcoming Events.”

Previously the self-governed BOC has offered  attractive, budget mountings of great operas such as Verdi’s Falstaff; Adamo’s Little Women; Janácek’s Cunning Little Vixen; Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, and Don Giovanni; Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi; Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites Handel’s Alcina; and Bizet’s Carmen.

Foreground: Marcello (Seth Grondin), Colline (Colman Reaboi), Schaunard (Andy Papas), Rodolfo (Jeffery Hartman), and Mimi (Leah Hungerford). Background: Alcindoro (Richard Scott) and Musetta (Natalie Polito) from rehearsal (Justin Bates photo)

According to the publicist, the Bohème staging is “period,” and the set is actually quite interesting — most of it is made up of a number of large moveable canvases with paintings representing the settings of the four acts being moved around the space between acts. It also seems to be based on the interesting notion that it could have been the work of the artists in the story. BMInt asked BOC Artistic Director and Stage Director David Gram to tell us what we might see and hear. (We also asked him why wine-swilling Frenchmen in the Café Momus scene were imbibing from English pewter tankards in the dress-rehearsal pictures.) He responded:

 Although the opera has been kept in its 1830s setting, my designers and I have filtered the period look through a contemporary lens. Many of the costumes are drawn from today’s fashion but have been designed to create lines and silhouettes that echo the mid-19th century. The goal has been to capture the essence of the period as opposed to being ‘period precise.’ It brings the present to the past and reminds us that who these characters are and what they struggle with are universal challenges that transcend time and location. They just happen to live, laugh, love, and fight with epic passion… while doing it all to beautiful music.

The conceit behind the use of the painted canvases as our primary scenic element is purposely more abstract. We wanted Rodolfo and Marcello’s artistic world to be present in every act. We often say artists eat, sleep, and breathe their art. In this case it both literally and metaphorically defines their world. The canvases are not only paintings of Paris and the surrounding area but contain snippets of writing as well, so Rodolfo and Marcello’s work is intertwined in the design. The image I always had was that this is a world ‘conjured’ by the two of them. And as the opera progresses, we see what happens when their carefree bohemian life is juxtaposed with the harsh realities of poverty, hunger, illness, and death.

The ‘tollgate’ is a large empty frame that will have remnants of a canvas falling from it. It’s almost as if a canvas was once stretched across it — but had been torn away from its mount. The gate has an ‘arm’ that opens up to let in our sweepers/scavengers/work women.

I appreciated your tankard observation! We are still finalizing prop decisions. Some are stand-ins. Initially we made the choice of tankards because they were not going to accidentally break on us (a problem with glass!), while also providing a solid sound when clanked (a problem with plastic!). But the observation was astute, and we have definitely clocked it in our notes.

The majority of the principal roles are double-cast, so each cast performs three of the six performances. Performers are comprised of both Boston Opera Collaborative members and outside professionals. BOC members are given casting priority, though we audition for principal and comprimario male roles and for female chorus outside of the membership. Directors, conductors, musicians, designers and production staff are hired on a project-to-project basis, though many have established an on-going working relationship with the company over the course of many productions. The orchestra will consist of 30 players.

Boston Opera Collaborative’s La Bohème, will be conducted by Adam Boyles, directed by David Gram and performed in Italian with English supertitles on March 2-4 and 9-11 at the Tower Auditorium, MassArt, 621 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8:00 pm, Sunday performances begin at 3:00 pm. A pre-performance lecture, “Consuming Music: Parisian café culture and Puccini’s La Bohème,” with Dr. Laura Prichard is scheduled for  2 pm on Sunday, March 4. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors (65+), and $15 for students. Children 10 and under are free. Tickets are available online here or by phone at (617) 518-5883.

The casts include:

Mimi: Leah Hungerford (March 2, 4, 10) and Rebecca Teeeters (March 3, 9, 11);
Rodolfo: Giovanni Formisano (March 2, 3, 10) and  Jeffery Hartman (March 4, 9, 11);
Musetta: Natalie Polito (March 2, 4, 10)  and Katrina Holden  (March 3, 9, 11); and
Marcello Seth Grondin (March 2, 4, 10)  and Brandon Milardo (March 3, 9, 11).

The Children’s ensemble includes Cecilia Cipullo, Kayla Silverman, Anika Sridhar, and Alexandra Upton.

See related review here.

Mimi (Leah Hungerford) and Rodolfo (Jeffery Hartman) in Act I of BOC’s production of La bohème. (Justin Bates photo)

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