Don’t mess with a good thing, as the saying goes.
And Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece “La Bohème” is most definitely a good thing. So the Townsend Opera production of the tragic love story will stay true to the original in performance and staging. The company will put on two performances of the iconic opera, on Thursday and Feb. 1, at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
“It’s one of the most popular operas in the world,” said Townsend General and Artistic Director Matthew Buckman. “The music is absolutely fantastic to listen to. The story is beautiful and touching and tragic at the same time. One of the themes that runs through this is recalling what it’s like to be young. We want to stay true to that and add a sense of realism to the production.”
The story of poor, young artists living in the Latin quarter of Paris in the 1800s will feature a cast of 35 performers from as far away as Los Angeles and New York. Directing will be Mark Streshinsky, who serves as general director of West Edge Opera in Berkeley (formerly Berkeley Opera).
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Buckman said bringing Streshinsky in for the production was a coup. He has previously directed for the Houston Grand Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, Opera San Jose and Dallas Opera and served on the directing staffs of San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera and New York City Opera.
“He is a really, really fantastic director for this show. It’s an honor and treat for us to have him working for this production,” Buckman said.
While there will be no radical reinterpretation of the story, this will by no means be a stale adaptation. The show will incorporate video projection to help set the visual tone. Also, scenes set in the small upstairs garret where the artists live will be done atop a narrow, 10-foot scaffolding.
Carrie Hennessey, who plays seamstress Mimi, said the raised staging adds to the authenticity but also makes things tricky for the actors.
“You have to make sure every step is sure,” said the Sacramento-based soprano. “But for me, working in a smaller space adds to the intimacy of the relationship of the characters. If Mimi walks into room and (her love interest) Rodolfo is 100 feet away, it is physically more difficult to project that magnetic attraction.”
Joining Hennessey in the cast will be Christopher Bengochea of Modesto as poet Rodolfo, Roberto Perlas Gomez of Sacramento as painter Marcello and Christine Capsuto of San Jose as singer Musetta.
As part of the show, the lobby at the Gallo Center will be turned into a Parisian street fair. Street vendors and entertainers will add to the bustling atmosphere. Buckman said this is the first time the company has created such a lobby experience, and he hopes it will help engage the audience more with the production.
“The arts need to try to find ways to be more participatory instead of a completely passive experience,” Buckman said. “(We want) people to come and party like we’re in Paris. For people who have seen ‘La Bohème’ a number of times, this isn’t going to have the same look of ‘Bohèmes’ before.”