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'La Boheme' by Opera Colorado charms at Ellie Caulkins Opera House

November 1, 2017 Updated: November 3, 2017 at 3:13 pm
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Soprano Anya Matanovic and Tenor Dominic Chenes play Mimi and Rodolfo in Opera Colorado's "La Boheme," Nov. 4-15 at Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver.

One of opera's most iconic stories, Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme," is considered to be one of the world's masterpieces.

The musical tale of six struggling young bohemians in Paris at the close of the 19th century resonates with those new to opera as well as diehard opera fans - despite the fact that it ends sadly.

Opera Colorado opens its 2017-18 season with "La Boheme," on stage through Nov. 15 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. But don't put off purchasing tickets, as it's expected to sell out.

The opera will be conducted by Ari Pelto and directed by Matthew Ozawa, with an ensemble cast including soprano Anya Matanovic as Mimi and tenor Dominick Chenes as Rodolfo.

Pelto, Opera Colorado's music director since 2015, said he has directed nearly 100 performances of "La Boheme" but never tires of it.

"It ranks very near if not at the top of my list of favorite operas. I adore it," he said. "We in the opera world, many of us have done 'La Boheme' many times, and all of us still love it. It's so beautiful, fun and moving, and so incredibly well-written. It is one of the great gems of the world."

Some may recognize "La Boheme" as the opera that moved the character played by Cher to tears in the 1987 movie "Moonstruck" and as the inspiration for the 1996 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical "Rent." It is popular with opera newbies in part because none of its four acts is longer than 30 minutes, Pelto said. Also, "The music is irresistible. And practically everybody would recognize something from it."

The instrumental music in "La Boheme" is performed by the 70-member Opera Colorado Orchestra, now in its second season.

"Part of my responsibility in my position is nurturing, leading and guiding the orchestra, and it's a group that I'm very proud of. They play incredibly well," Pelto said.

When Opera Colorado planned this, its 35th season, the company looked for three contrasting works, he said. The world premiere of "Steal a Pencil for Me," by Gerald Cohen and Deborah Brevoort, to be at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center in January, and Verdi's "Falstaff," set for May, round out the schedule.

"This season is certainly a study in contrasts," Pelto said. "Although they're three incredibly different works, their one similarity is they're all ensemble pieces. They all rely on having an ensemble cast, not one person who makes it work."

Opera will always attract newer and younger audiences, Pelto said. On Thursday, per tradition, Denver-area middle and high school students will be the audience for the final dress rehearsal of "La Boheme."

"Every time, that audience goes crazy. They love it. I'm a firm believer that anybody who's given the chance to go see an opera is going to have a good experience, with very few exceptions. I think people can be intimidated by it, but they don't realize they're going to be able to understand the story," Pelto said.

For "La Boheme," the translation from Italian is shown on the backs of the seats at Ellie Caulkins.

"It's a show with great music and great singing. With no microphones used. When people realize that, they are in awe."

MICHELLE KARAS, THE GAZETTE, 476-1602, MICHELLE.KARAS@GAZETTE.COM

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