by Mike Telin
On Friday, April 29 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, May 1 at 3:00 pm at Masonic Auditorium Performing Arts Center, Cleveland Opera Theater will present Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème, directed by Scott Skiba. Conducted by Domenico Boyagian, the opera will be sung in Italian with English subtitles.
“It’s going to be an exciting production,” Skiba said during a recent conversation. “It’s easy to take it for granted and say, yeah, it’s La bohème, but when you’re working on it and discovering new things in it, it just strikes you how rich it is at every turn. And Puccini’s music is so wonderful. At every rehearsal I look over at Domenico and say ‘This music is so good!’”
People who know the opera may first think of it as being about the relationship between the seamstress Mimì and the writer Rodolfo. But for tenor Timothy Culver, who will perform the role of Rodolfo, the relationship between his character and his three roommates is pivotal to the story.
We caught up with the four male bohemians during a rehearsal break at Masonic Auditorium, and asked them to say a few words about their characters and their bond with one another.
Timothy Culver: “I think the opera should be renamed ‘Rodolfo,’ because the character is onstage all the time. But what him makes tick? He’s a poet and a writer. He’s romantic, and when he meets Mimì, he’s in love in an instant. He wants to be this grand gentleman, but of course he has no money. There’s also a little bit of a jealous streak to him, even when little innocent things happen between Mimì and the other guys.
“Rofolfo and his roommates are all very passionate guys. They’re young and have a zest for life. There’s a camaraderie that they all share — they’re willing to give up fame and fortune for beauty, love, and romance — which isn’t a bad way to live.”
Benjamin Czarnota (the musician Schaunard): “I agree with all that Tim said about the relationship between the four guys. But when I was talking to Scott Skiba about my character, he said it’s important to understand that Schaunard chose to live the bohemian life. He has a proclivity for medicine and could have gone on to be a doctor, which probably would have made his parents much happier. I think of him as the one who is able to make money and support this group of people. I’ve performed this role five times, and each time it is a little different — I keep reinventing him.”
Brian Keith Johnson (the painter Marcello): “He’s very much into himself, but he really is in love with Musetta and they have a fiery relationship because they are so passionate. They’re on the extremes of everything — there’s no middle ground with them. They’re either at the height of love of the depth of despair.
“Marcello is fiery in general. When he’s talking to Rodolfo and Rodolfo doesn’t listen to him, he says ‘Listen, I’m talking to you about my fabulous painting.’ For him, it’s all about Marcello’s world.
“I think it’s great how timeless La bohème is. It’s set in a different era, but the relationships of the characters are the same as any group of friends today. They’re struggling artists, and love is what keeps them all together. When one of them gets sick, no matter what has happened in the past, everybody helps out.”
(In addition to singing the role of Marcello, Brian Keith Johnson said he looks forward to getting some tips on painting from artist Jack Liberman, who is creating original artwork for the production.)
Jason Budd (the philosopher Colline): He’s supposed to be a philosopher, but it’s interesting to get to know him because 95% of the time he doesn’t have an original thought. He follows everyone else and repeats what they say.
“What I also find interesting is that most people believe that these are revered characters who should be approached with white gloves. But these four guys are geeks. They’re not successful. Although the argument in the score refers to the “great” painter Marcello, he’s not a great painter, otherwise he wouldn’t be living the way that he is. So I think that approaching these characters as great artists, and great people in general, is completely wrong. Scott’s doing a great job of showing that side of them.”
On Friday, soprano Marian Vogel will share her thoughts about Musetta.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 28, 2016.
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