PROVINCETOWN BANNER – In the first act of Giacomo Puccini’s classic opera “La Bohème,” four penniless young Parisian bohemians — a poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher — keep warm in their garret on Christmas Eve by burning the poet’s latest manuscript. The opera premiered in 1896 (it’s set in 1830), but the struggle of starving artists is just as real today — even for opera singers.
“I have lived that life of a poor artist,” Opera Theater of Cape Cod co-founder Ethan DePuy says. “And I’m really interested in exploring the line that exists between poverty and homelessness. As artists, we live on that line often. These characters are living check to check. One missed rent and they are out on the streets. That’s a real thing to see.”
Reflecting on what he’s encountered in his own travels, DePuy says that Puccini “really hit the nail on the head in terms of what artists go through, and what poverty is like. Living that life where you want nice things, but you go home and there is no heat. It seems that perhaps Puccini was acquainted with this lifestyle at some point.”
DePuy is directing OTCC’s upcoming production of “La Bohème,” giving it a modern staging to underscore its timelessness, and using the English National Opera’s translation from the original Italian, so that those who are new to the opera can follow along and engage fully. Following last year’s sold out performance of “The Tragedy of Carmen” at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, the company is set to perform “La Bohème” at the much larger Tilden Arts Center in Barnstable on Friday, Sept. 6, and Saturday, Sept. 7. But first, they will give the Outer Cape a preview at Prez Hall on Friday. While they may be outgrowing their Wellfleet home, they’re not looking to move out.
“Preservation Hall has been good and kind to us, so we want to go back there as often as possible,” DePuy says, speaking fondly of the hall’s beautiful stage, the open, acoustical space, and the intimate experience: the audience there will hear and see the performers in a way that they wouldn’t in a larger theater.
In the Wellfleet preview performance, the audience will only see two scenes with minimal sets as the stage allows. DePuy says that it will be like watching a work-in-progress. ”‘La Bohème,’” he says, “is one of the perfect operas. I’m excited to explore all the emotions. It’s the real life of an artist.”
Opera Theater of Cape Cod has cast several up-and-coming singers from the New England area for its production, most of whom have done the opera throughout the U.S. and regionally: Sarah Joyce Cooper as the frail seamstress, Mimi; tenor Fran Rogers as the poet Rodolfo, her beloved; Hannah Carlson as the singer Musetta; baritone Scott Ballantine as Marcello, a painter; basso Fred Furnari as the philosopher Colline; baritone Matthew O’Donnell as Schaunard, a musician; and basso Miles Rind as Benoît, the landlord, and Alcindoro, a councilor. The singers will be conducted and accompanied by music director and pianist Joseph Turbessi.
Those new to opera will find the scenes relatable, and Puccini fans will see and hear the “Bohème” they’re familiar with — despite a setting that appears to be 2019. It may be modern, but for DePuy, nothing beats the original music. The two scenes the company has chosen for the preview in Wellfleet will introduce the characters, begin a romance, and hint at what’s to come, without giving away the ending. For that, you’ll have to go to OTCC’s full production in Barnstable.
The original ‘Rent’
What: Preview of Opera Theater of Cape Cod’s production of “La Bohème”
When: 7:30 pm Friday
Where: Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St.
Admission: $30 at wellfleetpreservationhall.org
“I wouldn’t say that I’m a traditionalist in terms of how I stage my operas,” DePuy says, “but I’m certainly an opera purist. I respect the way the story is written, and I respect the music first and foremost.”
If the young company’s inaugural season is any indication, the Cape’s opera-hungry audience will fill the house. Then at least these artists will not starve, and no manuscripts will be burned for heat.
Note: For complete details and tickets to both venues, visit operatheaterofcapecod.com.
By Susan Blood, Banner Correspondent