By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Opera Western Reserve first staged “La Boheme” in 2005, when the company was still in its infancy.
On Friday, a more-seasoned OWR will revisit the Puccini classic, and audiences should notice a difference.
“We are a different company now, more advanced in our production,” said David Vosburgh, who has been production director of OWR since it began in 2004.
“This is one of the strongest casts we’ve ever fielded,” he said of this year’s presentation. “We have wonderful singing actors. They sing beautifully and portray their characters realistically and touchingly.”
Vosburgh was referring to soprano Marian Vogel and tenor Alex Richardson, who will sing the roles of the lovers Mimi and Rodolfo, the central characters.
“They look like their roles, and they look and sound young and very much in love,” said Vosburgh.
Vogel and Richardson are no strangers to OWR — or each other. The duo last teamed up at OWR for “Tosca” in 2011. Vogel sang the title role of Tosca, while Richardson sang Cavaradossi, her lover.
Vogel has been recognized as a gifted performer both on the concert and operatic stage. She debuted in Carnegie Hall under the baton of composer/conductor John Rutter, performing both the Mozart “Requiem” and Rutter’s “Magnificat.”
Vogel also has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall and made frequent appearances with Cleveland Opera.
A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, she has toured extensively as a soloist in the United States and Europe.
Richardson, also very experienced, possesses a vibrant presence of sound. As a former Fellow at the Tanglewood Institute, he sang the role of Vogelgesang in Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” under the baton of Maestro James Levine.
In past seasons, Richardson has debuted with Toledo Opera as Scaramuccio in “Ariadne auf Naxos” and was presented in concerts in Florida with Dicapo Opera.
Richardson holds degrees from the University of Colorado and the Manhattan School of Music.
Also returning are baritones Michael Young, who is a Warren native, as Marcello; and Jason Budd, a Hubbard native, as Colline.
Making their OWR debuts will be Lauren Frey as Musetta and Joel Herold as Schaunard. Robert Pierce, OWR’s Young Artists team leader, will sing the combined roles of Benoit and Alcindoro. Patrick Niess is Parpignol.
The opera will be sung in the original Italian with English supertitles.
The orchestra, as always, will be led by music director Susan Davenny Wyner, who is also the conductor of the Warren Philharmonic. Stage direction and scenic design is in the hands of Vosburgh, while Dana School of Music professor Hae-Jong Lee is chorus master.
Costumes have been created by Barbara Luce, with hair and makeup design by Linda Leith and Robert Matthews.
For the first time, OWR has associate artists covering the main roles: William Andrews (Rodolfo), James Binion (Schaunard/Colline), Rhea Olivacce (Mimi/Musetta) and John Watson (Marcello).
“We’re not working without a net anymore,” said Vosburgh.
“La Boheme” is set in 1840s Paris and centers around a group of young Bohemians.
“It is the most beloved of all the operas, the most performed and most popular,” said Vosburgh.
It is also, of course, the story on which the enduring Broadway musical “Rent” is based.
“Rent” has developed a youthful legion of followers since it premiered on Broadway in 1996, and OWR took advantage of this fact in its education and outreach programs.
Several weeks ago, the company performed parallel scenes from “Rent” and “La Boheme” for middle- and high-school students in the Poland school district.
“Students could see both casts, but 100 years apart and by different composers,” said Vosburgh.
The program might have been eye-opening for the students.
“We introduced school children to what opera sounds like,” said Vosburgh. “It’s so different to them. It’s emotional and visceral, and it’s different for them to witness a live performance and not on a little screen, like they are used to.”