Opera Nananimo artistic director Carol Fetherston leads a rehearsal for the upcoming production of La Bohème featuring principal performers Michael MacKinnon, Jeremy Roszmann, Andrea Rodall, Jason Cook, Martin Renner-Wallace and Wendy Alexander (front from right) at the Nanaimo Conservatory of Music earlier this month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Opera Nanaimo presents ‘La Bohème’ at Malaspina Theatre

The production is the company’s first full-length opera

Nanaimo’s opera company is staging its first full production next month as it tells the story of six struggling bohemians living in 19th century Paris.

On Nov. 9 and 10 Opera Nanaimo presents Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème at Malaspina Theatre. The production features a cast of 48 including the chorus and 12-member children’s choir, with lighting design by Michael Stebbings, whose past credits include the Yellowpoint Christmas Spectacular. Producer and artistic director Carol Fetherston said it’s an ambitious undertaking for Opera Nanaimo.

“Yes, it’s a big step forward, but I think Nanaimo’s ready for it,” she said. “What’s happening here is I have seen all kinds of people come forward, want to know more about the production, want to participate in it, the volunteers are coming out of the woodwork … There’s a great deal of excitement about this production.”

In casting the opera Fetherston sought to bring in highly trained up-and-coming performers who have yet to break into the “upper echelon,” as well as singers from the Island.

Nanaimo-raised baritone Jeremy Roszmann plays the role of the laid-back musician Schaunard, a character he’s always wanted to play. He said La Bohème is his favourite opera and while he’s performed it as part of the chorus in the past, this is his first time in a lead role.

“It’s got everything from love and happiness to tragedy. It’s a lot of fun,” he said of the opera. “I think it’s hard not to enjoy it when you listen to it. You really have to have a hatred for opera if you don’t like it.”

This is around the 30th performance of La Bohème for tenor Martin Renner-Wallace, who hails from Victoria. He said it’s the opera that got him hooked on opera and he’s always played the romantic and troubled poet Rodolfo.

“One of the most gratifying things is having this personality arc that starts in one place and ends in another,” he said. “In this case, it starts with him being a relatively happy-go-lucky bohemian poet and it ends with him being absolutely heartbroken and crushed, but it’s a very fun story arc to discover and you get to discover it anew every single night.”

Making her opera debut as stage director is Nanaimo actor and director Tamara McCarthy. She said she views her job as supporting the performers and helping shape and fine tune the production. She said she’s been watching past productions to help her devise a staging plan.

“Opera hasn’t really had a home here in Nanaimo, so it’s really exciting what Carol is doing to bring opera to Nanaimo audiences,” she said. “This is their biggest production to date so it’s a really exciting opportunity for Nanaimo audiences to to not have to go to the mainland or down to Victoria to see a show.”

Fetherston said as more people from bigger cities with an opera presence move to Nanaimo, the demand for the art form will grow. In the coming years she hopes Opera Nanaimo continues to nurture that interest in the mid-Island.

“The whole idea is to introduce the public here to these great works of art that have stood the test of time,” she said.

WHAT’S ON … Opera Nanaimo presents La Bohème at Malaspina Theatre, VIU Bldg. 310, on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets $45, available from the Port Theatre box office or online. While the opera is performed in Italian, an English translation will be projected above the stage.


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