July 21, 2013

Classical Beat: PORTopera director gives 'Boheme' modern look, realistic feel


I recently attended a rehearsal of PORTopera's new production of "La Boheme" and judging by what I heard, this promises to be a peak musical experience.

click image to enlarge

Dona D. Vaughn, PORTopera’s artistic director, says her latest production of “La Boheme” is “about young, attractive, exciting people, who make friends fast.”

Staff file photo by Jack Milton

PORTopera has produced "La Boheme" before, as its third opera and the first staged at Merrill Auditorium. The series has been running for 19 years now, but artistic director Dona D. Vaughn always has a new take on the most popular of operas, and "La Boheme" is no exception.

This time she is going for verismo, with starving artists, musicians, philosophers and poets portrayed by singers of about the same age as Puccini's protagonists and with the same preoccupations while waiting for "the call."

"I didn't want opera stars playing a role, but real people," she said.

She has chosen the era around 1910 in Paris as a setting, "with a cubist look" a la Georges Braque.

She is also attempting to make the libretto, in Italian with English supertitles, more true to life without altering the text.

Vaughn proved how well this can be done with her production of "Madama Butterfly," in which Cio-Cio San is more heroine than victim, and the American consul Sharpless himself the victim of hopeless love.

In the stage direction I witnessed, Vaughn built the attraction of Rodolfo and Mimi gradually, revealing the characters that lead to mutual attraction instead of presenting the star-crossed pair smitten by instant love, as is the norm in most productions.

She said that she also intends to place more emphasis on the "secondary" roles, such as the philosopher Colline, and their influence on the plot.

Perhaps not coincidentally, baritone Edward Parks, who played Sharpless in "Madama Butterfly," will sing the role of the painter Marcello in "La Boheme."

"The production is more modern, but the story is timeless," said Vaughn. "I wanted to spark it up a little; it's about young, attractive, exciting people, who make friends fast. The Cubist sensitivity of the set implies that things are not what they seem."

Instead of Coleridge's willing suspension of disbelief, Vaughn is aiming for belief. "La Boheme," as romantic as it is, is not a fairy tale but a tragedy.

Reserve seats early and bring a handkerchief or two.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:



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