The Dayton Opera presents Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème
By Eric Street
Dayton Opera opens its 2011- 2012 season Oct. 21 and 23 with one of the most popular operas in the repertory, Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème. Why is La Bohème so beloved? According to Director Kathleen Clawson, “It’s because people love romance. It’s perfect in every way — musically and dramatically. The characters are just like you and me, or people that we know. And there’s that great music by Puccini. I can’t tell you when I saw my first Bohème, but I’m certain I was really small. Since then, I’ve seen countless productions, but every time I see it, I’m still reduced to tears at the end. It’s a wonderful, cathartic experience.”
The cast comes with glowing credentials. Making their Dayton Opera debuts are tenor Dinyar Vania and soprano Inna Dukach in the leading roles of the young lovers Rodolfo and Mimi. Vania and Dukach have already honed their interpretation together in a recent “off Schuster” production at the New York City Opera. Joining them are several artists already familiar to Dayton audiences, including soprano Kearstin Piper Brown as Musetta, baritone Eric McKeever as Schaunard, and bass Mark Baker in the dual roles of Benoit/Alcindoro.
Baritone Kyle Pfortmiller debuts as Marcello, joined by bass Christopher Temporelli making his first Dayton Opera appearance as Colline. Conductor Joseph Mechavich, already familiar to Dayton audiences, leads from the podium.
“It’s a truly exceptional cast,” said Clawson. “Every single one of the singers is exceptional. They’re young, attractive, and they sing really well. That’s the Holy Grail for opera.”
Joining the principals are the Dayton Opera Chorus and a children’s chorus.
“There are 13 in the children’s chorus, and they are spectacular,” said Clawson. “They sound wonderful and they are delightful. Sometimes I have to call out the adults for talking in rehearsal, but never the kids.” Excitement in the children’s chorus runs high. “We’re doing staging now, and it’s really intense,” says children’s chorus member Clay Goertemiller, a 12-year-old student at Oakwood Junior High School.
About the opera
La Bohème is an opera in four brief acts by Giacomo Puccini, set to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. According to the published score, it is based on Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger. However, the opera actually owes more to Murger’s stage adaptation, La vie de Bohème. It was not legally advisable to admit this at the time, since the play was covered by copyright restrictions that did not apply to Murger’s original novel. Curiously, the opera’s fragile heroine is actually a composite of two of the novel’s characters, Mimì and Francine. The young lovers’ meeting closely follows the novel, but the couple who meet in the novel’s Parisian attic are not Rodolphe and Mimì, but rather Jacques and Francine. In the novel, the heroine dies alone in a hospital, while in the play and opera she expires on-stage, accompanied by grieving friends.
The world premiere of Puccini’s La Bohème took place at the Teatro Regio in Turin Feb. 1, 1896, conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. It caught on swiftly in Italy and abroad. Its first performance outside Italy was at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires that June. It debuted in Alexandria, Lisbon, Berlin and Moscow the following year.
The Manchester premiere in an English translation in 1897, with the production supervised by Puccini himself. The same company gave the work its first stagings in London and Los Angeles later that year. The Metropolitan Opera performed it in 1900 with Nellie Melba as Mimì, a role she coached with the composer. La Bohème has since become one of the best-known gems of the opera repertory. It is now one of the most frequently performed operas in the world.
Giacomo Puccini was born in 1858 in Lucca, Italy, into a family boasting five generations of musicians. His father died when Puccini was 5 and he was sent to study with an uncle. At 17, Puccini walked the 18 miles to Pisa to see Verdi’s Aida. Inspired by the performance, he enrolled at the Milan Conservatory to study composition.
While studying in Milan, Puccini entered a competition for opera in 1882. Although Puccini lost, his Le Villi was later staged and it caught the attention of music publisher Giulio Ricordi, who commissioned a second opera in 1889. Edgar flopped due to its bad libretto, but Ricordi gave Puccini an allowance until the success of his next opera, Manon Lescaut.
From 1891 onwards, Puccini spent his time hunting, driving fast cars, chain smoking and composing at Torre del Lago, a village on a lake about 15 miles from Lucca.
Puccini’s La Bohème is one of his finest works, as well as one of the most romantic. He followed it with Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La Fanciulla del West, La Rondine, Il Trittico and Turandot. Sadly, he developed throat cancer before completing Turandot, and the newly invented radiation treatments he underwent in Brussels could not save him. He died in 1924 and was entombed in his villa at Torre del Lago.
Tickets are on sale with discounts for seniors, WPAFB personnel and students. Friday Nite Tweet Seats for $15 are also available to members of area young professionals groups and their guests. When ordering, be sure to mention “Tweet.” For more information, visit www.daytonopera.org or call (937) 228-3630. La Bohème is sung in Italian and supertitled in English. Performances are Friday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 23 at 3 p.m.
Reach DCP freelance writer Eric Street at EricStreet@DaytonCityPaper.com.