Riveting theater, achingly beautiful music abound in upcoming University Opera production of La Bohème
University Opera takes over the Wisconsin Union Theater for a three-day run of Puccini’s masterpiece
On February 23, 24 and 25, University Opera, in collaboration with the Wisconsin Union Theater, will present a special production of Giacomo Puccini’s timeless masterpiece, La Bohème, at the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Shannon Hall. This marks the first time in over 15 years that University Opera has staged a production at the Union Theater and the first bona fide opera production in the space since the theater’s renovation in 2014. Conducted by interim UW-Madison Director of Orchestras, Chad Hutchinson, and directed by Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera, David Ronis, the production will be performed in Italian with English supertitles. It will take full advantage of the many upgrades to Shannon Hall, in particular, the expanded orchestra pit which will accommodate the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Friday, Feb. 23 @ 7:30 PM
Saturday, Feb. 24 @ 7:30 PM
Sunday, Feb. 25 @3:00 PM
Arguably Puccini’s most beautiful work, La Bohème blends riveting theater with sumptuous music. The incomparable score accompanies the story of Rodolfo and Mimi, a penniless poet and a seamstress, who fall in love and suffer through heartbreak and tragedy. Along for the ride are Rodolfo’s fellow starving artist buddies, Marcello, Schaunard, and Colline, as well as Marcello’s sassy yet bighearted girlfriend, Musetta, all surviving on laughter and the promise of love.
Says longtime University Opera supporter Kathleen Harker: “I am excited to see opera return to Shannon Hall at the Union with the University Opera’s lavish production of Puccini’s La Boheme. I have fond memories of seeing my first opera, a touring Metropolitan Opera production of ‘Madama Butterfly,’ at the Memorial Union in 1965.”
La Bohème is chock full of memorable arias including Rodolfo’s “Che gelida manina” and Mimi’s “Mi chiamano Mimi” both from the end of the first act, when Mimi and Rodolfo fall in love; as well as Musetta’s Waltz, “Quando m’en vò,” which Musetta sings in the lively second act to arouse Marcello’s jealousy. It was also the inspiration for Rent, Jonathan Larson’s musical theater adaptation of the material, recently seen at the Overture Center in a national touring production.
Above: Luciano Pavarotti sings “Che Gelida Manina,” 1961
University Opera’s production sets La Bohème in Paris of 1925, the period called les années folles, “the crazy years” – France’s version of the Roaring Twenties – during which time so many famous artists and intellectuals found themselves in the City of Light. Among the crowd at the Café Momus in the second act, audience members might be able to pick out characters inspired by some of these famous expats – F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Salvador Dalí, Simone de Beauvoir, Man Ray, and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few. “We’re so excited to be presenting this timeless, heart-wrenching story against the backdrop of the vibrant cultural and artistic milieu of Paris in the 1920s,” says director David Ronis. “The environment is a natural fit for generating the emotionally charged performances that really make La Bohème so fulfilling to see.”
This marks the first time in over 15 years that University Opera has staged a production at the Union Theater and the first bona fide opera production in the space since the theater’s renovation in 2014.
The transposition of the story to the 1920s also provides fertile ground for the imagination of set designer Joseph Varga, emeritus professor of scenic design in the UW-Madison Department of Theatre and Drama. For this production, Varga has designed a non-literal unit set that functions beautifully for both indoor and outdoor scenes, the background of which features a stunning roofscape view of Paris. Varga is joined by M.F.A. student lighting designer, Sruthi Suresan, costume designers Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park and props designer Jennifer Childers. Completing the production team will be production manager Martie Barthel-Steer, technical director Greg Silver, scenic painters Teresa Sarkela and Yoshinori Asai, prop manager Jo Chalhoub, rehearsal pianist Sarah Williams, assistant director Sarah Kendall, and assistant stage managers Meghan Stecker and Delaney Egan.
This large production will involve over 80 UW-Madison students – singers, instrumentalists, and stage crew – as well as ten young performers who are members of Madison Youth Choirs. Most of the principal roles will be double cast. Shaddai Solidum and Yanzelmalee Rivera will split performances as Mimi. UW-Madison doctoral candidate and Madison Opera studio artist Benjamin Liupaogo will divide performances of Rodolfo with José Muñiz. Katie Anderson and Claire Powling will both perform the role of Musetta, Matt Chastain and alumnus James Held will be Marcello, Nicholas Damiano and John McHugh will perform Schaunard. Guest artist and alumnus Benjamin Schultz-Burkel will be seen as Colline, Jeremiah Gile as Benoit, and Jake Elner as Alcindoro. UW-Madison vocal coach, Dr. Daniel Fung, will be responsible for the musical preparation.
Tickets are $38 for premium seating, $30 general admission, $25 senior tickets, $15 non-UW-Madison students and $10 UW-Madison students and are available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/la-boheme/. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 12:00-5:00 p.m.
Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended. If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.
University Opera is a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the School of Music’s web site at https://www.music.wisc.edu/
Below, enjoy two more gorgeous arias from La Bohème. We will see you at the Union in late February!
Anna Netrebko sings “Si, mi chiamo mimi”
Maria Callas sings “Quando me’n vo,'” 1958