5Q: La Bohème

Photo by Dan Norman
Photo by Dan Norman
“5Q” is an online-only column featuring five questions about stage productions in the Metro Area. Periodically, “5Q” will take the form of an interview with actors, directors, writers, etc. to shed some light on the production process.

Last in Minnesota Opera’s season, but certainly not least, is the blockbuster opera that inspired the hit-musical Rent: Giacomo Puccini’s timelessly beloved La Bohème. In Puccini’s classic tale, six young Parisian artists survive on nothing but their friendship and the promise of love. Heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure, this time-honored story is one of the most popular romances of all time.

Lauded for a “clarion” voice, tenor Scott Quinn sings the poet Rodolfo, a role he’s performed numerous times in the past. The tragic lover lives in an attic with his bohemian friends and burns his manuscripts to keep warm. Some of opera’s most recognizable and soaring arias follow his love with Mimi.

Photo by Dan Norman

Most people outside of the opera world today are probably familiar with La Bohème as the basis for Broadway’s Rent. What do you tell the Broadway fans to expect?
Scott Quinn: 
I’d tell Broadway fans that they will experience the universal story that they love, and that they will be blown away by the popular and touching music. In opera, the main dramatic tool is the music (i.e. the orchestra and beautiful, expressive singing). These musical elements are what make La Bohème so popular and special. If musical theater fans aren’t opera-goers, this is the perfect show to get their feet wet.

La Bohème is frequently heralded as one of the most beloved operas ever written. Why do you think that is? What about the opera makes it so endearing?
I believe it’s because people identify with all that the story explores: true love, close friendships, life struggles, materialism, death, and grief. Plus, the music underneath keeps you on the edge of your seat from the first note to the last.

Despite the opera’s popularity with audiences, Puccini has been the target of condescension by some critics who find his music insufficiently sophisticated or difficult. Why the discord between audience and critic reception?
I can tell you from experience that singing this music is by no means not difficult (vocally, that is), but the writing style appeals to the masses at an emotionally accessible level. Puccini wrote for his audience, not his critics. I think some critics have become numb to this aspect of his music, after seeing and hearing so many productions over the years. That being said, the power of the opera on a more typical opera-goer is undeniable.

Photo by Dan Norman

You’ve performed the role of Rodolfo multiple times before. How do you approach the character each time you join a new production? Do you continue to learn more about the character each time you take him on, or what goes through your mind as you return to the character each time?
Every time I return to Rodolfo, I’ve lived more, so every real life experience I’ve had helps enrich the role from one performance to the next. Working with new colleagues and getting their input also keeps my approach fresh and allows me to view the opera’s situations from other angles.

Puccini is lauded for his incredibly realistic, and often violent style, portraying realistic characters in everyday lives, and often depictions of lower classes. What does his style add to the story and context of La Bohème?
His style (verismo) grabs you by the heart, gives you chills, and makes you cry. In many cases you don’t need to know the translations to know the gist of what is being said, which is why La Bohème can be digested and loved by even the youngest of audiences.

La Bohème runs at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts May 6–21. For more information and to purchase tickets, head to www.mnopera.org.

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