OPERA 'La Boh & egrave;me' production takes shape

Performers and directors are optimistic about the future.
The planning for "La Boh & egrave;me," to be presented by Opera Western Reserve is well under way, even though the performance won't take place until November. This is the second opera produced by this fairly new organization, and it is excited about the future.
"OWR was an outgrowth of the Opera Guild," said James Boyd, general director. "We are a separate group, but still connected to the Guild. The president of the guild is on our board, so they are officially tied together."
Last year, "Pagliacci" was the group's first production. "It was the first real professional opera performance in town," said Misook Yun, associate professor of opera at Youngstown State University, and also a principal performer. "The quality has greatly improved."
"But if the guild had not been successful with 'La Traviata,' the discussion of 'Pagliacci' would not have been possible," Boyd added. "La Traviata" was produced by the guild before the formation of OWR, but the guild does not have a program for regular performances.
Opera in education
"The guild has always wanted to support opera, either at YSU or at the professional level," Boyd said. "And they will continue to support opera. They have two scholarship programs for YSU students, one for undergrads here, and another to send a YSU student to study in Italy."
OWR also has an education outreach program. One is the "Docent Program" run by Corinne Morini, who goes to schools to teach kids about opera. Another program, the "Trunk Program" is simply a big trunk filled with opera-related items including children's workbooks for a variety of ages, CDs, scores and librettos, and little props. It can be borrowed, for free, by any school or private music studio. OWR also opens the hall for middle and high school age children to sit in on dress rehearsal two days before the performance. It did this for "Pagliacci" and will do it for "La Boh & egrave;me."
"The Italian Scholarship League is the major underwriter for OWR," said Boyd. "Their major intent is to educate children about Italian culture and language. This ties in to our work with Italian operas." OWR is sticking with Italian operas for the time being, because they seem to be the most accessible to people, and to draw crowds. "La Boh & egrave;me is a very well known and popular opera," Boyd said.
Packing the house
Of course at this early stage, the group's goal is to become established and fill the hall for its performance, so the group is taking it slow and doing what it thinks will work best.
"'La Traviata' sold out, about 200 seats, in a dinner setting downstairs at Stambaugh," Yun said. But about 50 more people showed up, so it had to add extra seats. This prompted the move upstairs, since the group knew there was more demand for space. The group is also thinking ahead to the possibilities of doing two operas a year at some point, once it feels confident it can draw enough people. Two operas will allow for more creative programming. One will most likely be a popular crowd pleaser, and a second one, maybe smaller and less well known. "[Aaron] Copland wrote an opera called 'Tender Land'" said Yun. "That would work well for a regional company like this."
Familiar faces
OWR's goal is to use local artists, although it may occasionally need to look outside the area to fill a certain role.
Susan Davenny Wyner, who is also the director of the Warren Philharmonic, has pulled musicians from Warren and the Youngstown Symphony to create the 25-piece orchestra, which she also directs. It is using reduction scores, both for financial reasons, and because there is no pit at Stambaugh to fit in a large orchestra.
The cast of "La Boh & egrave;me" is relatively small, with six major roles plus a few minor ones, which is economically sound for this new venture. Barbara Luce, of the Costume Kingdom in Poland, builds or supplies their costumes.
Boyd said he is in the process of expanding the board, on which five people currently sit. "The more connections and influence we have, the better," he said. "It is also nice to have more people to volunteer, and of course, we are always interested in donors."
Boyd said opera companies are springing up everywhere. "Symphonies are more abstract, pure music, where people just go to listen. But opera contains all the elements: drama, music, the theatrical aspect, which gives the audience more to grab onto. And people are rediscovering the stories." He added that the current practice of projecting the text in English has helped make opera more accessible.

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