BYU’s “La Boheme” dramatizes young love, loss

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Broken-hearted lovers don’t always take the time to sing an aria, but it’s a normal occurrence in “La Boheme.” The BYU School of Music and Philharmonic Orchestra is bringing the opera to campus this October.

Ari Davis
It’s love at first sight for Mimi and Rodolfo, played by BYU students Michelle Dean and Wayd Odle. Mimi and Rodolfo’s love story plays a central part in “La Boheme.” (Ari Davis)

“La Boheme” director Lawrence Vincent said the opera, composed in 1896 by Giacomo Puccini, is one of the top four operas produced every year throughout the world. This is Vincent’s second time directing it at BYU, and he said it’s a good pick for student voices because it’s musically and dramatically challenging without going over the heads of most student actors.

“The music is just gorgeous,” Vincent said. “The opera’s easy to follow, and the music is easy to listen to.”

“La Boheme” is set in Paris in 1830, focusing on a group of four friends starting out in their careers. There’s a painter, a poet, a philosopher and a musician, and they’re all immigrants and refugees who came to Paris to make their mark.

Boy meets girl, and the rest is history. “La Boheme,” or “The Bohemian,” refers to Mimi, one of the main love interests in the show.

The opera is performed entirely in Italian with English supertitles projected to the side of the stage. It follows the group of friends through comedy and tragedy, love and loss, and absolutely everything is set to music.

The School of Music held auditions for “La Boheme” in the spring, and leading singers have worked hard ever since to memorize the score and polish their performance. Memorizing a colossal amount of music in a foreign language is probably the students’ most demanding task, Vincent said, but sticking with the original language will better prepare them for future careers.

Ari Davis
“La Boheme” is one of the four operas performed most often worldwide. This is the second time Lawrence Vincent is directing the show at BYU. (Ari Davis)

The singers then combine with a live orchestra for the final performance.

“Opera is by far the most difficult medium that exists,” Vincent said. “Much more difficult than theater, because you have the musical aspect of it. Much more difficult than ballet, because you have the language aspect of it. It’s extremely complicated, and when you recognize that and do a little homework and are acquainted with the music, it’s fascinating.”

Vincent is researching the history of opera at BYU and said the university has frequently performed these shows since the early 1900s. Opera can pull people in when they put forth the effort to appreciate it, he said.

“There’s a special something that happens when someone invests the time and the energy to become acquainted with opera,” Vincent said. “It doesn’t happen to everybody, but there’s an opera bug that bites you.”

Cast members Mary Jones and Dylan Glenn said they were bitten by the opera bug in different ways.

Jones, a chorus member and Musetta’s understudy, immediately fell asleep when she first attended the opera as a young child. Her classical vocal training eventually led her back to opera, and it finally clicked for her when she was a freshman.

“I really fell in love with the harmonies and the beauty of the stories and the drama and tragedy of everything,” Jones said. “But it was an acquired love. I didn’t instantly hear it. I had to learn more.”

But Glenn said he’s always had a great passion for opera. He saw portions of “The Magic Flute” in his third-grade music appreciation class, and he checked it out from the library to watch the rest on his own.

Glenn performed in several operas as a child, and now, as a BYU junior, he plays the painter Marcello. “La Boheme” is his ninth or tenth opera, and Glenn said he thinks opera is the pinnacle of performance.

“If you haven’t been to an opera before or you’ve just heard some in your humanities class, your conceptions are probably totally off,” Glenn said. “Opera’s meant to be seen live. It’s meant to be experienced live. So just come, and I think everyone will be surprised by how much they love this opera.”

“La Boheme” will run from Tuesday, Oct. 18 through Saturday, Oct. 22 in the Harris Fine Arts Center’s de Jong Concert Hall.

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