| The Utah Lyric Opera brings a stellar cast to town as guests of the Sun Valley Opera, which will perform “La Boheme” in its entirety tonight at the Community Campus. Courtesy photo
It’s a story being lived in coffee shops across the valley: scruffy but hunky skier meets gorgeous and intentionally unkempt snowboarder, they share some wax and stories, with a soundtrack of mountain reggae, and then, perhaps a bunk in a house full of like-minded roommates. It’s high season for snow and flu. One gets sick, no insurance between them. Other heads out to avoid the plague and to score another powder day. Comes back and decides to sell old bindings for Vick’s Vapor rub, but alas, it is too late …
It was the basis for the story that became the Broadway show “Rent,” with AIDS and drugs the bane of passionate but poor artists sharing space in New York City.
“La Boheme” as it will appear at the Community Campus at 7 p.m. tonight, Feb. 13, is the revered Italian version by Puccini, a glorious story of love, jealousy and death.
This take is immediately more romantic with its Paris setting at an intimate artists’ cafe, made painfully beautiful with the likes of soprano Lisa Seegmiller, who won a Tony Award for the starring role of Mimi, and tenor Isaac Hurtado, as Rudolpho, who you will swear has a Hollywood doppelganger. Rounding out the cast of the opera, playing tonight for a mere $15 at the Community Campus in Hailey, are equally scene-stealing and spirited soprano Jennie Litster as the canny and besotted Musetta, and soulful baritone Christopher Holmes as the forgiving Marcello, all transported from the Utah Lyric Opera for this first ever on-the-road production specially scaled for a Sun Valley audience.
“La Boheme was one of the first reality shows,” said Sun Valley Opera President Frank Meyer, who secured the first-ever opportunity to bring a full-production opera here around their winter extravaganza. “It wasn’t a story about gods or kings, it was about people Pucinni saw in daily life, about real people you would meet in daily life. It so easy to love it and impossible to forget.”
When Australian film director Baz Luhrmann decided to bring the story to the masses by bringing it to Broadway, he changed the setting to 1950 but kept the amazing music. But because opera singers were straining their voices with the multiple performances rarely done in an opera house, he auditioned worldwide for three casts to perform it.
Seegmiller was one, as was last year’s Sun Valley Opera headliner, Alfie Boe. Anya Matanovic, who won the annual Sun Valley Opera International Vocal Competition, played Mimi in Los Angeles. Delivering such a lofty production certainly required a well-heeled leader, which the cast has in Elizabeth Hansen, a Writers Guild Award winner and an Emmy-nominated screenwriter and consultant. Hansen has had a varied writing, directing and acting career that has taken her from the bright lights of Broadway, working with the likes of Tommy Tune and Harold Prince, to the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times, to the classrooms of Brigham Young University, where she taught screenwriting and playwriting from 1994 to 2000 as well as helped focus the school’s Screenwriting Program. She has authored the musicals “Enchanted April,” “How the West Was Done” and “They Called Him Brother Joseph.”
From the hallowed aisles of Home Depot in Salt Lake City last week, Hansen said she has found the whole thing a tad intimidating and humbling.
“Coming from a musical theater background, I am really getting into the characters and blocking and rehearsing,” she said, pausing to keep track of C. Michael Perry, the set designer who has been building a rolling set in Hansen’s garage. “It’s a little overwhelming because I don’t know what they’re saying. We’ll have supertitles, but I wish they were going on during rehearsals!”
It’s the first time the Utah Lyric Opera has taken a show from Utah County on the road.
“So we’re learning a lot and hoping it all fits in the Penske!” Hansen said, while acknowledging that “anything that you’re doing on a budget forces you to be creative and makes you work harder. We’re small, but strong and strong of spirit.”
And working with such a versatile cast is rare in opera, as is the shift away from the traditional “park and bark,” as they say of traditional operas.
“We come about the company in a more realistic way,” Hansen said. “We don’t really have a core group of artists, we have ‘go to’ people we invite because they are good and fast and professional and the audiences like them.”
Costuming will be primo, too, and though there will not be an orchestra or chorus, well-known pianist Lawrence F. Gee, who conducted under Hansen’s personal favorite, Beverly Sills, will provided the accompaniment.
“I was always more of a Verdi fan because that’s what Beverly Sills preferred,” Hansen said. “But when they started talking about La Boheme, I very casually said, ‘OK, let me listen to it,’ with no promises. But oh my gosh, there’s not a crappy song in the mix!”
Hansen said La Boheme is a good opera to cut one’s teeth on as the story is universal.
“I think if you like classical music, and you like good singing, you will like this show. It’s a very moving and lovely show.”
Get lost in love:
What: La Boheme
When: Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m.
Where: Community Campus, Hailey
Tickets: $15 at the door or by visiting www.sunvalleyopera.com