Opera returns to O.C.

By staging "La Bohème" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the Pacific Symphony will launch its new "Symphonic Voices" opera-vocal initiative to bring opera back to Orange County.

"La Bohème's" enduring tale of carefree Bohemians and star-struck lovers in 19th-century Paris was set to open at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, with repeat performers scheduled for the same time and place on Saturday and Tuesday nights.

Conductor Carl St.Clair and Stage Director A. Scott Parry will lead a cast of first-rate soloists, the Pacific Chorale and the Southern California Children's Chorus in a rendition of Puccini's most beloved opera.

Orange County lost its opera company, Opera Pacific, in 2008 after it went bankrupt. Now, the Pacific Symphony will once again breathe life into the local opera scene, with help from "La Bohème's" honorary producers, which include the Segerstrom Foundation, S. Paul and Marybelle Musco, as well as support from nearly 150 donors.

"It is just so wonderful to have opera back in Orange County," St.Clair said in a phone interview. "One of my goals several years ago in starting these talks and planning these concert operas was to bring opera back to Orange County and to put it back on our stages, to allow our audiences to really experience this incredible genre — where theater enhances music and the music enhances theater."

St.Clair, the mastermind behind the initiative, was inspired by his successful career as an opera conductor in Europe. He worked as general music director and chief conductor of the German National Theater and Staatskapelle in Weimar, Germany, as well as general music director of the Komische Oper Berlin.

"I chose this opera for a number of reasons," St.Clair said. "One, it's a magnificent score with every note in some way describing the drama that is going on stage between the characters."

"Two, it's one of the most beloved and most famous," he added. "Three, it's more about interaction between the various characters. It's all about interpersonal relationships and it's not so much about how the costume looks or how the set looks. So, this is one of the operas that we thought would work really well in a semi-staged, concert version. Not all operas do."

The symphony's rendition is a cheaper, scaled-down version featuring light costumes and sets, lighting, projections and minimal props.

"We are not doing it in a theater, but in a concert hall. So, automatically it's going to have a different feel," St.Clair said. "There won't be elaborate sets and staging that you would normally see in a proscenium opera house. We're doing it with the orchestra on the stage [coming out of the pit] and the singers are right in front. It's not what a you'd call a full-blown opera production, but it is what we are calling a semi-staged opera production."

"But it's not like a concert where [the performers] stand and sing. There is interaction and quite elaborate stage direction. It is theatrical production as well as a beautiful musical experience."

The production features the Pacific Symphony and a cast of top-notch voices. They will include tenor David Lomeli as Rodolfo, soprano Maija Kovalevska as Mimi, baritone Hyung Yun as Marcello, soprano Georgia Jarman as Musetta, bass Denis Sedov as Colline, baritone Jeremy Kelly as Schaunard, bass Thomas Hammons as Benoit/Alcindoro, and tenor Nicholas Preston as Parpignol.

Nearly all have performed their respective roles at other prestigious stages, including the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Seattle Opera.

Based on "Scènes de la vie de bohème" by Henri Murger, "La Bohème" centers on four single men in their mid-20s — Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline and Schaunard — who share an apartment while they work the Parisian world of art galleries and try to be café intellectuals.

The tale also follows the turbulent relationships of two couples: the painter Marcello and the beautiful Musetta, and that of the poet Rodolfo and his downstairs neighbor Mimi, who later falls ill with "consumption" — tuberculosis.

It sounds familiar, right? Before the hit Broadway musical "Rent" there was "La Bohème." It was only a few years ago when director Baz Luhrmann and composer Jonathan Larson, the creators of "Rent," eagerly sought to modernize the Puccini classic.

"We've only done one other opera in my 22 years of being musical director," St.Clair said. "I know that it's going to be a very memorable operatic experience, just because of the sheer power of these emotional characters and their beautiful voices will heavily impact the audience's music and concertgoing experience."

With a three-year plan in place to develop new relationships with opera training programs at local universities, while continuing outings that take patrons to major opera houses, "Symphonic Voices" will continue next season with another Puccini masterpiece, "Tosca."


What: "La Bohème"

Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and Tuesday, preceded by a preview talk with Alan Chapman at 7 p.m.

Cost: $30 to $110

Call: (714) 755-5799 or visit http://www.PacificSymphony.org.

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