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Sunday, July 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’ hits CdA

One of world’s most frequently performed operas perfect for the first-timer

Travis Rivers Correspondent

Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” ranks as one of the world’s most frequently performed operas.

Its story has opera’s most dependable ingredients: love, jealousy and death. Puccini serves up at least one beautiful aria for each of “Boheme’s” principal characters plus some of his finest ensembles.

Besides, as England’s King Edward VII told conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, “ ‘Boheme’ is my favorite because it’s the shortest opera I know.”

“All these qualities make ‘Boheme’ the ideal first-time opera for those who are not yet opera fans, or an opera to revisit for those who have seen it many times,” says Todd Robinson, Opera Coeur d’Alene’s general director.

Opera Coeur d’Alene will present two performances of “La Boheme,” Friday evening and Sunday afternoon in Schuler Performing Arts Center on the North Idaho College campus.

Robinson, an operatic baritone in his fourth season as Opera Coeur d’Alene’s general director, is both the stage director and set designer for the production.

“In our productions in past seasons, we did some experimental things with settings and costumes,” he says “But I think our audience here likes a more traditional approach for something as well known as ‘Boheme.’ ”

The opera will be sung in the original Italian, with English translation in projected supertitles.

“La Boheme” takes its name from the bohemian section on the Left Bank of the Seine River in Paris. Four starving artists and intellectuals are roommates in a cold, drafty attic apartment.

A touching, ultimately tragic, love develops between the poet Rodolfo and a neighboring seamstress, Mimi. Their affair is comically contrasted with the crockery-throwing tantrums that characterize the relationship of the painter Marcello and his tempestuous mistress Musetta,

Opera Coeur d’Alene’s cast includes soprano Christina Kowalski as Mimi; tenor Chad Berlinghieri as Rodolfo; soprano Shana-Blake Hill as Musetta; baritone Stephen Hartley as Marcello; Max Mendez as the musician Schaunard; baritone Alexander Scopino as the philosopher, Colline; and William Rhodes as both the landlord Benoit and Musetta’s elderly rich lover Alcindoro.

“All our principals are young singers I have worked with or have heard before,” Robinson says. “Some of them – Christina, Chad, Max and Bill – have sung with us here in Coeur d’Alene before. But all of them were chosen by how they look and sound together.”

Kowalski, who lives near Seattle, was born and trained in Germany. She made her American debut singing Marzellina in Portland Opera’s “Fidelio.” This “Boheme” production is her fourth appearance with Opera Coeur d’Alene.

Berlinghieri lives in Southern California where he has sung often with Opera Pacific, as well as with companies in San Diego, Milwaukee and Dayton, Ohio.

Hill is a North Carolina native who attended Oberlin College Conservatory and the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. She has sung both Mimi and Musetta in “Boheme” in productions elsewhere.

Hartley, a 2008 winner of Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice award, lives in New York City and has appeared with regional companies including a previous performance with Opera Coeur d’Alene.

“Alex Scopino, our Colline, is a baritone I met working with the Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, N.Y.,” Robinson says. “I really admired his singing. Besides, we baritones have to stick together since we don’t always get the glamorous, or even likable, roles.”

Both Rhodes and Mendez are well-known in the region for their singing in many productions in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane.

Duane Skrabalak, who recently stepped down as artistic director of the Tri-Cities Opera, will make his Coeur d’Alene debut as conductor.

Robinson will give a pre-performance talk one hour before curtain time about the opera and the challenges of being a singer who has taken on the role of stage director.

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