Festival of Music to close with ‘La Bohéme’ Saturday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NATCHEZ — Life, on stage — that is how the cast of Natchez Festival of Music’s production of “La Bohéme” explained the plot of the Italian opera that will close the festival’s season.

Set in Paris, the opera tells the story of four young male roommates struggling to pay rent, buy food and purchase other living necessities.

When the roommates meet their neighbor Mimi, Rodolfo, is instantly captivated. The two enjoy a blissful relationship that is juxtaposed to the on-again-off-again relationship of roommate Marcello and Musetta, another neighbor.

“It’s a slice of life,” said Laura Pedersen, who portrays Musetta. “There is struggle; there is love, there is drama and a little comedic relief.”

The opera, written by Giacomo Puccini, premiered in 1896 and has become one of the most performed operas. It is listed as the inspiration for such musical theater productions as “Rent.”

“It may be in Italian, but all the situations and feeling are familiar and relatable,” said Emily Ezzie, who plays Mimi. “We’re basically on stage telling everyone’s life story. Everyone has had struggles.”

Pedersen described “La Bohéme” as an accessible opera for audiences.

“It is easy to understand,” she said. “It’s easy to relate to and get into even though it is in a different language. The story is one that everyone understands.”

This production marks the end of the month-long Natchez Festival of Music. Performers have spent the last two weeks polishing off their roles and creating chemistry on stage.

Before coming to Natchez, the artists spent numerous hours learning music and capturing the essence of their character, but what brings the performance together is the relationships the characters form.

“For it to be believable to the audience, we have to really feel it,” said Gregory Gerbrandt, who plays Marcello. “It has to feel like the roommates all grew up together and that the relationships are real. That is the biggest thing we work on while we are in Natchez.”

Many of the lead artists in “La Bohéme” have played the roles before and bring that experience with them.

“The more familiar you are with a role, the more confident you are,” Gerbrandt said. “But just because you’ve done a role before doesn’t mean it is going to feel the same each time. The other cast members, the conductor, the stage director, they help dictate the mood and feel.”

David Guzman, who plays Rodolfo, said many people think they would not be a fan of opera, but he believes productions like “La Bohéme” would open their eyes.

“Probably 90 percent of the people who say they don’t like opera, have never seen an opera,” he said. “All they need to do is see something like ‘La Bohéme,’ and they will change their minds.”

And a lively audience only serves to enhance the opera experience for those on stage and off stage.

“We really feed off the energy of the audience,” Ezzie said. “If they are clapping and laughing and really enjoying it, then we feel that energy and somehow can take our performance to the next level.”

And this performance is one Ezzie believes the audience can really get into.

“It is just full of beautiful music,” Ezzie said. “It was really written for the ear, full of emotion that is easy to get caught up in. It just makes me happy to sing it.”

Guzman said that is exactly how it was intended to feel.

“It wasn’t originally called an opera,” he said. “It was a music drama.”

The performers will take the stage at 7 p.m., Saturday at Margaret Martin Performing Art Center. Tickets are $20, $35 and $45.

The production will be followed by a final gala beginning at 10 p.m. at Linden. Admission is $20.

Festival of Music tickets can be purchased by calling 601-446-6631 or 1-800-647-6742 or in person at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

There will be a pre-opera chat and luncheon at noon Thursday at E2, 200 State St., that will allow people to familiarize themselves with the production. Tickets are $15.