Boulder Opera Company will perform La Bohème for a limited in-person audience.
By Izzy Fincher Nov. 10 at 12:45 p.m.
Are you tired of livestreams?
Live, socially-distanced opera in Longmont might be the answer.
The Boulder Opera Company will present Puccini’s La Bohème for a limited in-person audience on four dates, Nov. 13, 14, 19 and 22, at Longmont’s Dickens Opera House, a restaurant/live music venue. The performance will adhere to COVID-19 social distancing requirements, and audience members will be required to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
“We are excited to present (opera) live,” Michael Travis Risner, the Boulder Opera Company’s stage director, says. “That visceral, human experience of live performance is so valuable.”
“How long has it been since we have seen something truly live? Broadway is still dark. The entertainment and hospitality industries are almost down to zero because of the pandemic. There’s been a dearth of live performance these last eight months.”
La Bohème, premiered in 1896, is one of the most performed operas worldwide today. Based on Henri Muger’s novel, Scènes de la vie de bohème, the opera depicts the Bohemian lifestyle of an impoverished seamstress, Mimi, and her artistic friends, Rodolfo, Marcello, Musetta, Schaunard and Colline, all living in Paris during the 1830s. The tale is heart-rending and tragic, yet it is also full of passion, love, joy and humor.
This performance of La Bohème will be set in 2020 COVID-19 times, rather than 19th century Paris. Mimi’s mysterious illness, which is later revealed as tuberculosis in the original story, will be left ambiguous—it could be COVID-19 or not. To keep her artistic friends safe, Mimi will enforce social distancing and mask-wearing for everyone as part of the staging.
“By setting (La Bohème) in a contemporary time, it is immediately more accessible,” Risner says. “I wanted to show the context in which we are all living right now.”
But staging an intimate romance while maintaining social distancing has not been easy.
“It’s a challenge getting an intimate show that is very much about love and relationships without having that physical intimacy,” Risner says. “I am asking a lot of (the singers) to really act hard, to convey what we need to without being physically close to each other.”
Other COVID-19 related challenges have also impacted the production.
Weeks before the final performances, the pianist and music director, Steven Aguiló-Arbues, and three main singers quit, due to safety concerns about COVID-19. With no pianist, Colline, Musetta or Schaunard, Risner almost had to cancel the show.
Luckily, he soon found a new pianist/music director, Maggie Hinchliffe, and three replacement singers who were familiar with the roles, on short notice. Risner says he felt “very fortunate to find people,” especially with only five rehearsals left before the show.
“We just keep pushing forward,” Risner says. “We are 100% committed.”
Making the live performance safe for the audience and singers has been yet another challenge for Travis. During the show, singers will release high quantities of aerosols, which can increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Audience members will also release aerosols while eating dinner without masks.
To mitigate these risks, Risner has taken several precautions in collaboration with the Dickens Opera House. Dinner will be served before the performance, and masks will be required once the opera starts. The singers will be far away from each other on stage, at a significant distance from the audience. At intermission, everyone will leave the room to allow for ventilation, before returning for the final two acts.
“I want people to feel safe,” Risner says. “I want people to feel confident. We will ask audience members to keep their masks on when they are not actively eating or drinking. We will ask them to be masked up the entire duration of the performance. The only difference from going out to a restaurant and taking your mask off to eat is that there are people singing 25-30 feet away from you.”
Despite all of the hurdles of live performances in 2020, Risner feels the Boulder Opera Company is as prepared as possible for their adaptation of La Bohème. He is excited to bring live music back and share the classic, touching love story with the greater Boulder community.
“It’s a timeless story about love, forgiveness and understanding,” Risner says. “It’s a slice of life, designed to be heightened realism.
“Hopefully, (the audience) sees a part of themselves reflected onstage and is moved in some way. That’s why we do what we do—to provide an escape from the craziness.”
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Boulder Opera Company
La Bohème at Longmont’s Dickens Opera House
7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov.14
7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19
1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22
Purchase in-person tickets for La Bohème here.
Livestream access for the Nov. 14 performance available here.