'La Bohème'

Based on the book by Henry Murger, "Scenes de la vie de Boheme," Puccini's opera "La Bohème" tells the timeless love story that inspired the movie and Broadway musical "Rent." Poor, young, Parisian artists, living a penniless but passionate existence, struggle with friendship, love, laughter and despair. The events in the opera are based on true stories. Everybody has to get by.

Rogue Opera will stage "La Bohème" at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at the Grants Pass Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St., Grants Pass; 8 p.m. Friday, May 8, and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 10, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

Performed in English and led by Rogue Opera's Artistic Director Willene Gunn and Los Angeles Conductor David Aks, "La Bohème" includes a cast of more than 40, including an eight-member marching band from North Medford High School, a children's chorus and a 20-member local chorus. The cast features national and regional professional opera singers, a full orchestra and chorus, with period costumes and sets.

Notable singers include J. Raymond Meyers, tenor, singing Rodolfo (Meyers also be seen in the Oscar-nominated film "Milk" as the opera singer); Misook Yun, a Metropolitan Audition Winner singing Mimi; local tenor Michael Flaherty singing Marcello; and Robert Stafford singing Colline. Southern Oregon native Patricia Leines Pine will sing Musetta. Other Oregon singers include Scott Ingham as Schaunard, Michael Wing as Alcindoro, Dan Gibbs as Benoit and Mark Peterson as Parpignol.

This is Meyers' third time singing Rodolfo and the sixth time he has appeared in "La Bohème." "It's in your blood," Meyers said, "It's one of those shows."

This is the second time Yun has performed Mimi and her third time in "La Bohème," having sung the role of Musetta in college. Pine sang the role of Musetta the last time Rogue Opera performed "La Bohème." All of the soloists agreed that there is so much to discover in this particular opera. "It's a new piece every time you do it," Meyers said.

In her director's notes, Gunn said, "The art form called opera, in my somewhat biased opinion, is the most complicated but also the most fulfilling of artistic disciplines. Because we have been given the special privilege of being present when we struggle to bring life to something that takes us out of ourselves and faces us with universal truths. In the union of words, music and drama our souls are overwhelmed by grief or passion or great beauty. Our hearts are touched by love and romance, by great joy and laughter. It enhances this business of living, adding a delightful dimension to this fascinating journey."

Performing the opera in English helps make it more accessible. "It's not a Victorian translation," Meyers said. "It's more in our vernacular. It's the way people actually talk. People have conversations and people react."

Pine said she hopes people will overcome their reluctance to come because it's not in Italian. "Puccini's music overrides the translation," she said.

Meyers said of the antics of the four male friends in the story, "The guys are like the four Stooges. Like the frat house."

Then there is Puccini's music. "It's so emotional, Pine said, "just on the core level of the music. The amount of exhilaration you can feel."

Yun said, "In the fourth act I get choked up. It's a really moving story. The singers have great chemistry."

More than 60 locals have been involved in this production on the stage and behind the scenes. Tech and lighting people from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival helped out. The sets were built by a donor and volunteers. Costumes came from the San Francisco Opera, OSF and Opera San Jose. Billy Rose in Ashland put them together. "That's a nice privilege," Pine said. "Executive Director Lori Hall set up a professional company and with Willene's connections the use of the costumes was possible. The calibre of the show is very professional. Everyone has been so respectful and loving. We want to give this community a treasure so that people embrace it as something that should remain in the valley."

Tickets are $10-$39. Grants Pass tickets are available in Grants Pass at Larry's Music (541-476-4525) and at the Rogue Opera office online at rogueopera.org, or by calling 608-6400. Craterian Tickets are available at the Craterian box office or by calling 779-3000.

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