Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Get to know the cast of Penn State Opera Theatre’s La Bohème

Get to know the cast of Penn State Opera Theatre’s La Bohème

Rehearsals for Penn State Opera Theatre’s La Bohème have been taking place since January. I have the pleasure of covering the lively role of Musetta and have been in most rehearsals as part of the hard work going into making this production a success. We are all looking forward to performing this internationally beloved piece for central Pennsylvania audiences.

Since its premiere in 1896, Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème has been a favorite of opera and music lovers. It continues to be one of the most performed operas in the standard repertory. The opera’s libretto is based on Henri Merger’s novel Scenes de la vie de Bohème, a collection of stories depicting young Bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s. At the center of the opera’s story are the relationships shared between this colorful cast of characters.

I had a chance to interview most of the cast who will bring these characters to life on the Eisenhower Auditorium stage March 28 and 29. These Penn State students and alumni graciously answered questions about La Bohème, their characters, and their personal stories. Let’s get to know the cast and characters of La Bohème, a presentation of Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture, School of Music, and Center for the Performing Arts.

CJ Greer, a second-year student in the Master of Fine Arts Musical Theatre Voice Pedagogy degree program, plays our leading lady, Mimì.

AB: How long have you been preparing this role?

CJG: I started preparing for the role last May when I heard they would be doing this opera. I had no idea I would be cast, but I knew it was something I really wanted to go after. I made efforts to see it live, listen to several recordings, even started an online Italian language class last semester to begin to get a feel for the lilt of Italian speech. It’s been a lot of work up to now and miles to go before I sleep.

AB: What is your favorite scene in La Bohème either musically or theatrically? Why?

CJG: I have no idea yet. I love the music in act one when Mimì and Rodolfo first meet. It is such a touching introduction, and the two are experiencing feelings everyone can relate to.

AB: What is your dream role?

CJG: I have tons. Elphaba, Evita, Jen (Andrew Lippa’s John & Jen), and I really would like another crack at Florence from Chess. But after exploring some of the music, I have recently added Fosca from Stephen Sondheim’s Passion to my list—quite an operatic piece, actually, though it is sung in a completely different tessitura. Yes, all musical theatre pieces. I am less familiar with operatic repertoire, but I believe I will eventually come up with some dream roles in this art form, too.

Matthew Vickers, a Penn State alumnus, graduated in 2012 with a Master of Music in Voice Performance. Matthew returns to Penn State to portray Rodolfo.

AB: What have you been up to since graduating from Penn State?

MV: I have been constructing and beginning my career as an opera singer since my time at Penn state—including three tours of Europe, several oratorio and concert engagements, the Met competitions, and even debuting in the role of Turiddu in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

AB: What is your favorite scene in La Bohème, either musically or theatrically? Why?

MV: My favorite scene in La Bohème is certainly the break-up duet between Rodolfo and Mimi in the third act. It’s a very moving scene, but the music is what appeals to me here. It is very rich and provocative.

AB: What is your dream role?

MV: I have many roles that I would love to debut and even more that I’m sure are to come, but my dream role is that of the perpetually sad tale of Pagliacci. Not only was it the first opera I ever saw—and was in—but to this day his aria “Vesti la giubba” still brings tears to my eyes.

Lisa Rogali, a junior Music Education major, performs the role of Musetta.

AB: Tell us about Musetta.

LR: I guess the word that best describes Musetta is diva. She is Marcello’s old flame, a cabaret singer, and incurable flirt. However, despite her showy personality, she is a genuine person with a big heart.

AB: What is your favorite scene in La Bohème, either musically or theatrically? Why?

LR: My favorite moment is in act four when Mimi and Rodolfo are left alone in their final moments together, remembering the past happiness they experienced in their first meeting.

AB: When did you start singing?

LR: Growing up, I was always very shy. I started playing clarinet in band and continued with it for eight years. However, I really didn’t become serious about singing until the end of high school, when I finally broke out of my shell. I started taking voice lessons less than a year before college auditions, but now I know this is where I belong.

AB: What is your dream role?

LR: My dream role would be Violetta in La Traviata. I even have Sempre libera tattooed on my foot.

Don Marrazzo, a second year student in the Master of Fine Arts Musical Theatre Voice Pedagogy program, will perform the role of Marcello.

AB: Tell us about Marcello.

DM: Marcello is feisty, passionate, brave, warm, bright, witty, and a trusted and loyal friend. I think he is the kind of person we all have, or should have, in our lives in some capacity—be it a partner, family member, friend, colleague, etc. Marcello is the person that we not only love to be around socially, but the one we know we can turn to and count on during times of great conflict and distress. A great example of Marcello’s character is in act three. A key component in every story—whether a book, film, play, opera, etc.—is conflict, and conflict can stem from any number of factors. At the center of La Bohème are its leading characters, Rodolfo and Mimì. Rodolfo is a young poet, a dreamer. In some ways, he is wise beyond his years and capable of intense emotion. In other ways, he is naive and limited in his ability to really feel. Mimì is the young seamstress with whom Rodolfo falls in love and who eventually succumbs to an illness which is plaguing Paris. Rodolfo’s conflict becomes apparent once Mimì’s illness begins to consume her. He starts to withdraw from her. Instead of simply loving Mimì unconditionally and caring for her until she takes her final breath, Rodolfo projects unfounded blame on her for her flirtations. He says he must break-up with Mimì, mocking and insulting her to his best friend, Marcello. Marcello, however, does not accept Rodolfo’s story. He challenges Rodolfo by forcing him to look inside of himself and admit that his allegations against Mimì are simply a cover-up for the fear, pain, and great sadness he is feeling about Mimì’s imminent passing. Rodolfo acknowledges that Marcello is right and confesses the profound devastation he feels at the prospect of losing Mimì. While its musical beauty lies in its soaring melodies and orchestration, I believe that the true heart of this opera lies in its characters, each of whom is given an unusually genuine treatment. As in real life, the characters’ relationships reveal the ways in which we help one another to become better, more evolved individuals.

AB: How long have you been preparing the role?

DM: I began studying this role at the end of last semester and worked on it a great deal over winter break.

AB: What is your favorite scene in La Bohème, either musically or theatrically? Why?

DM: My favorite scene in La Bohème is in the fourth act—Mimì's “Sono andati.” It is incredibly beautiful, both musically and dramatically. It is such an honest moment, the moment in which one individual tells another just how deeply they love them. In any production I’ve ever seen of La Bohème, that scene has always been, for me personally, the most moving.

AB: What is your dream role?

DM: My dream role is actually not in opera, but in musical theatre. And, I would have to say that I actually have a number of dream roles. But the short list would include Javert in Les Misérables, Billy Bigelow in Carousel, and Miss Trunchbull in Matilda.

Michael Hanley, a Penn State alumnus, graduated in 2013 with a Master of Music degree in Voice Performance and Pedagogy. He performs the role of Schaunard.

AB: What have you been up to since graduating from Penn State?

MH: I’ve been teaching voice in Syracuse, New York, as a member of the voice faculty at Syracuse University. I have also spent the last two summers as a fellow at the Aspen Music Festival performing roles in Gianni Schicchi and The Picture of Dorian Gray and also perform regionally in central New York.

AB: What is your favorite scene in La Bohème, either musically or theatrically? Why?

MH: My favorite scene in the opera is the entire second act. There’s so much going on in the story, and there are so many characters involved, including a large chorus and the children’s chorus.

AB: What is your dream role?

MH: My dream role is the title role in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Jared Stufft, a junior Voice Performance major, portrays Colline.

AB: Tell us about Colline.

JS: Colline is one of the four bohemian men in the opera. He’s a philosopher, a sort of earthy guy with lots of deep thoughts and books.

AB: What is your favorite scene in La Bohème, either musically or theatrically? Why?

JS: I love the opening of the whole opera. The music is very exciting and gives off the carefree vibe that the four men have at the beginning of the work.

AB: When did you start singing?

JS: I didn’t start singing until I was a freshman in high school. When I was about to enter ninth grade, my older sister told me I had to join choir, a notion I vehemently objected to. However, the choir teacher caught me singing some Temptations songs to myself, convinced me to sit in on a rehearsal, and, well, here I am now.

AB: What is your dream role?

JS: Although I’m not sure if my voice will ever take me in this direction, I would love to sing Wotan from Wagner’s Ring Cycle someday.

Joseph Helinski, a sophomore Voice Performance major, plays the roles of Alcindoro and Benoit.

AB: Tell us about Alcindoro.

JH: Alcindoro is this elderly man who we come across in act two who Musetta keeps stringing along. As the act unravels, we find that poor Alcindoro gets the short end of the stick and ultimately loses out to Marcello, Musetta’s former lover.

AB: What is your favorite scene in La Bohème, either musically or theatrically? Why?

JH: My favorite part of La Bohème is act two just simply for the grandeur. When one thinks of opera, this act is the elaborate and vibrant act that one typically calls to mind.

AB: When did you start singing?

JH: I started singing around age 5 and had my first public performance when I was 5 singing the National Anthem at an Altoona Curve game not too far away from State College.

AB: What is your dream role?

JH: I don't have one dream role that comes to mind. To me each opportunity that arises to perform brings new challenges, and to me that challenge is the most exciting part.

The cast of Penn State Opera Theatre’s La Bohème and I are excited to share this beautiful story and music with you. We hope you come and enjoy the experience.

La Bohème opens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28, with a second performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 29. Purchase tickets for a performance of the opera.

Until then, join in our rehearsal experience and stay updated by liking Penn State Opera Theatre on Facebook and by following us on Twitter @PSUOperaTheatre

Remember to also follow the Classical Music Student Ambassadors on Twitter and Instagram for the latest updates on La Bohème rehearsals and other sponsored events. Twitter and Instagram: @ListenUpPSU

Until my next post, I send my best wishes to you.

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