Month-long opera festival will culminate with grand performance of ‘La Boheme’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

The Natchez Democrat

Music and drama are only two of the elements making Giacomo

Puccini’s opera &uot;La Boheme&uot; a favorite among performers

as well as opera lovers, members of the Natchez Opera Festival

cast said.

&uot;The characters are real life people rather than fantasy

characters,&uot; said Cristina Castaldi, who will portray Mimi

in the production beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday at Margaret Martin

Performing Arts Center. &uot;Mimi is a real person dying from

a real disease. Even if the audience has never seen the opera

before, they will know these characters.&uot;

Puccini’s &uot;La Boheme&uot; is a tragic opera in four acts,

first performed in Turin, Italy, in 1896. The bohemians in the

opera are four poor but carefree young men who live together in

Paris about 1830.

They are Rodolfo, a poet; Marcello, a painter; Schaunard, a

musician; and Colline, a philosopher. Mimi, a frail young girl

in poor health, is their neighbor. She and Rodolfo fall in love.

Although the story ends tragically, the opera has many humorous

and sentimental moments. It also has some of Puccini’s most beloved

melodies.

One of the most famous melodies is &uot;Musetta’s Waltz,&uot;

a highlight of the role of Musetta, said Jane Ohmes, who will

portray the fun-loving young woman in the Natchez production.

&uot;She’s showing her stuff at that point,&uot; Ohmes said.

Manuel Acosta, who is making his American opera debut, has

played the role of Rodolfo, the poet, in Mexico, his home country.

The role has great appeal for him, he said, because of the character’s

romantic nature. &uot;Rodolfo talks much about love; he can play

it; he can cry it,&uot; Acosta said. And, most important, he

sings it.

The aria and duet in Act I are among his favorite musical moments.

The most special dramatic moment comes at the end of the opera,

when he simply calls out the name of his love, &uot;Mimi, Mimi.&uot;

For Castaldi, the role of Mimi is one she always knew she would

play as she prepared to become an opera singer. &uot;I knew this

would be a staple. I loved the Italian literature, especially

Puccini, but Mimi always had an appeal for me because I think

in many ways I am like Mimi,&uot; she said.

The young woman is typical of many women, she said – living

alone, searching for love, a simple seamstress who enjoys embroidering

flowers.

&uot;She is typical in tending not to show what she really

is feeling,&uot; Castaldi said. &uot;And even when she’s dying,

she is worrying about how everyone else is doing.&uot;

A challenge of the role is to draw the audience along in the

story without letting them know of the tragic end, she said. &uot;You

can’t cry with the audience. They need to see the struggle of

the character from the moment you step out onto the stage.&uot;

Ohmes said the complex characters present the audience with

a story on many different levels. &uot;You have to bring the

audience into the story,&uot; she said. &uot;Every character

goes through an evolution, an arc – a beginning, middle and end.&uot;

Musetta, like Mimi, is a character the audience finds familiar.

&uot;She wants the finer things of life but can’t have them because

she can’t afford them. And when she does get them, she finds that

she is not as happy as she thought she would be,&uot; Ohmes said.

For Musetta, the character changes throughout the opera are

remarkable. &uot;She slowly sheds her finery. She realizes that

she has a chance to be with people who love her. You see her at

her most superficial and then at the end she offers her earrings

to sell as a way to pay for Mimi’s care.&uot;

Every role is a challenge, Castaldi said. What’s more, the

cast must work together intimately to make the story believable.

&uot;Our other colleagues are very, very good singers and actors

and especially do the comedic moments well, Acosta said. Other

players are Peter Lindskoog, Marcello; Walter DuMelle, Colline;

Carlos Archuleta, Schaunard; Richard Cassell, Benoit and Alcindoro;

Mark Lubas, Parpignol; and Joshua Parrillo, customs guard.

The singer-actors have been inspired by each other even though

they have not worked together before. Furthermore, they have been

excited by the community response to the festival, they said.

&uot;We have been warmly welcomed by the community,&uot;

Ohmes said. &uot;And we’re up there on the stage because of the

people in the audience. When we can touch them in some way, we

know we’ve done what we’re supposed to do.&uot;