Bohème to Brighten Buckley Stage
By Daniella Bassi ’14, Section Editor
On Saturday Dec. 11 at 8 p.m., the Amherst Symphony Orchestra, together with a student chorus from across the Five Colleges,and seven lead singers, all drawn from major professional opera companies (including the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera and the Boston Lyric Opera) will be performing “La Bohème”, a beautiful opera written by Italian romantic master Giacomo Puccini.

The opera will be brought to life through the collaboration of these profusely talented musicians. The lead singers will simultaneously act out their parts, bringing an image and euphonious plot into the minds of the audience, while the rest of the musicians erect the rest of the sensual palette with their background performance, bringing texture, feeling and dimensionality to the production — immersing their audience into the world of the bohemians. Although the show will be in its original Italian, there will be “supertitles” above the Buckley Recital Hall stage to guide the audience through the performance, which, remarkably, does not have a set and will attempt to produce intense drama and passion with minimal movement of props and lighting.

“La Bohème” is about four poor young artists — Rodolfo, a poet. Marcello, a painter, Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician — who are living together while attempting to succeed in their difficult professions. Act I opens with Marcello trying to paint and Rodolfo trying to write a new manuscript he later feeds to the fire. Their friend Schaunard walks in on their efforts with good news for them: he has landed a job and has brought food, fuel and money home. That they are fortunate is indeed an understatement, for just then their landlord, Benoit, shows up at their door, demanding his rent. They distract him by inviting him in for wine and flattering him while he tells them stories. When the subject turns to his romantic conquests with young women, however, the bohemians in their surprise kick him out of the house. Everyone except Rodolfo then leaves to go to Café Momus, where they had wanted to celebrate Christmas Eve and now could. Rodolfo, who has stayed behind to finish a piece, is interrupted by his neighbor, Mimi, whose candle has gone out. Worried about the sickly beauty, he lets her in and they have some wine. He lights her candle, but as she is leaving she drops her keys and as they bend to look for them they are left in the dark. Under its cloak they hold hands and talk about their lives. The first act is rich with entertainment and full of the detail, humor and the curiosities of Italian culture at the time.

Act II takes the audience to the café, where the other three bohemians are celebrating. Marcello spots his inconsistent love, Musetta, on the arm of Alcindoro, whom she is with for his wealth alone. This becomes evident by the way she tries relentlessly to draw Marcello’s attention in the form of an aria about herself, which he adamantly ignores. As a last resort, Musetta loudly pretends that her shoe is bothering her and sends her date off to buy her a new one. When he is gone, Marcello yields, and the two finally embrace. The young artists escape, lacking the funds sufficient to pay the bill, and leave Alcindoro to pay it on his return. Only the audience will have the pleasure of knowing what happens after that.

In this promising rendition, Marco Panuccio, tenor, who debuted with the Cincinnati Opera as Edgard in “Lucie de Lammermoor,” will play Rodolfo. Jennifer Black, soprano, who made her concert debut with the New York Philharmonic as Amanda in Ligeti’s “Le Grand Macabre,” will play Mimi. Mark Womack, baritone, who has made appearances with the Connecticut Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, El Paso Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera, will play Marcello, and Caroline Worra, mezzo-soprano, who has appeared on over 20 opera company rosters including The Metropolitan Opera, The Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dallas Opera, Boston Lyric Opera and six seasons at both Glimmerglass Opera and New York City Opera, will play Musetta. Matthew Burns, baritone, who made his Carnegie Hall debut singing Handel’s “Messiah” and his Avery Fisher Hall debut singing the Zeremonienmeister in Hindemith’s “Das Nusch-Nuschi,” will be Collione. Alexander Garland, baritone, who also debuted at Carnegie Hall with many works written by living American composers, will be Schaunard. David Ward, bass-baritone, which is one of America’s leading basso buffos and who made his New York City Opera debut as Dr. Bartolo in “Le nozze di Figaro,” will play both Benoit and Alcindoro.

In her critique, “‘La Bohème’ and ‘The Stuff of Youth’”, Paula Fowler said that “La Bohème is an opera about young, idealistic people who are poised on the verge of adulthood, eager to fall in love forever, loathe to recognize illness or pain.” This gives us a theme apart from those of Italian culture and the core of bohemian/artistic lifestyle, philosophy and struggles to look out for. She also praises Puccini’s musical “genius [in] maintaining a multitude of simultaneous dramatic and vocal lines” and calls his lines “arching and emotion-filled”. For anyone who is worried about the opera being maudlin, she also extols his ability to “blend comic moments… with serious and tragic events”.

Mark Swanson, director of the Amherst Symphony Orchestra, has been in charge of organizing the project: “I put this project together… because liberal arts college orchestras never get the opportunity to perform this type of gorgeous score; [they] do not have opera programs or singers who typically can sing these types of roles. So it should be rewarding musically for the orchestra and a unique opportunity… However, I also believe this type of accessible, romantic score, which is quoted in and inspired the musical “Rent”, which has the same basic plot — and dramatic, moving story will appeal to Amherst students who wouldn’t normally take to opera or classical music.” Swanson’s right hand in this project is James Laff ’09, former Choral Society Teaching Assistant and Zumbye Director, who is acting as chorusmaster for the production, with the help of K.C. Conlan, director of the Hampshire Young People’s Chorus. A. Scott Parry will be directing the staging of the piece with the cooperation of Robert Brooks Scallan, who will be the lighting designer for the production.

For the musicians, this is an incredible career experience opportunity and an exciting one that brings them in contact with many kinds of fellow musicians, not to mention the unique and special score it is that they will be performing. “One of the really great things about the piece for me, is once we know it how fun it is to sing. A lot of it is singing in a different style than I’m used to, not so much focused on blending but shouting over an orchestra. So we really get to yell out and be dramatic, which is not something you can normally do without getting stares,” said Benjamin Lin ’12, a member of the chorus.

“La Bohème” in its entirety has virtually been put together in three days. Swanson said, “it’s only one extra-long rehearsal for the orchestra, but I will be working with the pros once they get in town Thursday on their music, and the director will be working with them on their simple staging, so it all should be manageable. We’re all terribly excited.”

This is an imminent masterpiece that has been carefully planned and diligently prepared in an impossible amount of time and that promises to enchant everyone who witnesses it into at the very least an admiration — if not a passionate love — for the opera. Tickets for the opera are free for Five College students and $10 for the public.

Issue 11, Submitted 2010-12-08 21:00:40