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J. Shane Mercer, Published October 28 2009

'Bohème' beauty: Actors add to opera’s broad appeal

If you take a glance at the headshots of some of the principle performers in Friday and Sunday’s performances of “La Bohème,” you may notice something interesting: They’re kind of easy on the eyes.

Claire Kuttler, who plays Mimì in the Fargo-Moorhead Opera production, has that cute dimple and happy smile. Sonya Headlam (Musetta) looks downright elegant.

The men also bring a visual presence. Marc Schreiner (Rodolfo) is clearly working his photogenic features in his hunky headshot. And David Hamilton, artistic director for the Fargo-Moorhead Opera, says Schreiner is one of a new breed of opera singers who can actually take his shirt off on stage. Mark Walters (Marcello) also boasts a strong face and a few muscles to boot.

Some good looks are fitting to Puccini’s opera. It’s a tragic tale involving free-spirited, young Bohemians living in 19th-century Paris. It follows the troubled and passionate love story of poet Rodolfo and Mimì, who grows deathly ill from tuberculosis.

Audiences also look in on the relationship of Marcello, a painter, and his former-then-reunited lover, Musetta. Then there’s Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician. So, given all the youth, love, artiness and Parisians, it seems like the group should sport a little eye appeal.

But, of course, the cast isn’t just – or even primarily – good looking. For example, Hamilton says Walters has an “absolute cannon of a voice,” and he described the timbre of Headlam’s vocals as a “creamy, beautiful sound.”

Those voices will be wrapped around the melodies in Puccini’s wildly popular opera, melodies that Hamilton calls “just incredible.” He says if you’ve never been to an opera, “La Bohème” is the one to start with.

Lucy Thrasher, who teaches voice and opera workshop at Concordia, says the music is “highly emotional in a very immediate way,” making it accessible to just about anyone.

Of course, there’s a story too. And Kuttler, a 2006 Concordia grad, sees a universality in the tale. To that point, “La Bohème,” which first premiered in 1896, served as an inspiration for the enormously popular musical “Rent.” That show opened on Broadway in 1996 and didn’t close until 2008 after more than 5,000 performances.

Furthermore, Schreiner says the motion picture “Moulin Rouge!” was “kind of semi-inspired by ‘La Bohème.’ ”

The characters, themselves, have a certain appeal, as well. Schreiner describes them as “painted beautifully.”

Kuttler says audience members like the characters, and they want things to work out for Rodolfo and Mimì. She says you “really end up caring about these people.”

Of course, in the tragic end, the likability of these characters plays right into Puccini’s hand. And so does the music.

Hamilton says the score at the end “affects you so much inside.”

“Puccini was a genius of conveying the story through the music,” he says.

And, while he isn’t performing in this production, Hamilton says when he does perform “La Bohème,” “I never have to act at the end … I’m always crying for real.”

If you go

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734