The characters of “La Boheme” speak to every generation. Giacomo Puccini’s opera of young Parisian artists making love, making art and trying to make the rent is relatable to any struggling young artist trying to pay the bills in the Crossroads, or wherever Kansas City’s next bohemian district might be.
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City will present the beloved “La Boheme” for four performances at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre beginning Nov. 9.
The director for the production is Kathleen Belcher. She and her husband Grammy Award-winning baritone Danny Belcher make their home in Liberty. Belcher says she is happy to return to Midwestern normalcy after a hectic schedule of directing operas around the country, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
It was at the Met that Belcher assisted in the legendary Franco Zeffirelli production of “La Boheme,” which included a carriage with a live horse on stage. Belcher, who has previously directed “La Traviata” and “Il Trovatore” for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, believes that, with exceptions, “Boheme” works best in a traditional, Zeffirelli-style production.
“I’ve seen some tweaking over the years, some that were more successful than others, but, for me, the story needs the city of Paris,” Belcher said. “And that community of bohemians is such an important focus of the story, especially the grisettes, Mimi and Musetta.
“Grisettes weren’t prostitutes, they were more like upper-class escorts. Puccini wanted to keep Mimi more pure and distinct from Musetta, but in the source material, Mimi is definitely one of those girls who is working like Musetta.”
Raquel González, who portrays Mimi, says that the greatest challenge in playing such an iconic character is making the role her own.
“The opera is one of the most popular operas of all time. Everybody knows it and there’s a lot of tradition and greatness attached to the opera and the role of Mimi,” González said. “When you have people like (Mirella) Freni and (Renata) Scotto and (Maria) Callas all having put their stamp on the role, it’s hard to feel like you’ve got the privilege of making it your own. But that’s exactly what we strive to do.”
González is a fine fit for the role, Belcher said.
“She’s just a beautiful singer and a really natural actress. Raquel and Georgy (Vasiliev), who portrays Rodolfo, are both such good actors and they really play well off of each other. I was telling Danny (Belcher) that one of the hardest things about ‘Boheme’ is having the audience believe that Mimi and Rodolfo fall in love so quickly. But with Raquel and Georgy you really do believe these two are in love.”
González praises the acting skills and vocals of the cast.
“Oh, my God, the voice on Georgy is just world-class, really,” González said. “The whole ensemble is amazing.”
Belcher says that “La Boheme” is still so popular with audiences because they resonate not only with the characters, but with Puccini’s music, which continues to move hearts and provoke tears.
“The score is lush and romantic,” Belcher said. “It’s beautiful music that people don’t know they know. They hear ‘Che Gelida Manina’ or ‘Musetta’s Waltz’ and they recognize the music, which they might have heard on a pasta commercial.
“I also think it’s very easy to find somebody on that stage, too. There’s the philosopher, the poet, the painter. You might not know somebody who’s died of TB, but you do know what it’s like to have a lost love or say goodbye to somebody.”
González says she hopes her portrayal will bring out the inner strength of Puccini’s tragic heroine, giving the character more of a contemporary edge.
“I think Mimi is the heart of ‘Boheme,’” González said “Mimi can be seen as a timid girl, and the concept of falling in love within the first five minutes of meeting a guy is so operatic. But I think Mimi is a lot bolder and kind of a modern woman. I think playing into that aspect of her helps keep her more relatable to audiences today and more relatable to me.”
7:30 p.m. Nov. 9, 13 and 15 and 2 p.m. Nov. 17. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $36-$195. 816-471-7344 or www.kcopera.org.
Friends of Chamber Music — Sergei Babayan, pianist
Sergei Babayan is one of those pianists who flies under the radar, but cognoscenti are very aware of this multiple award-winning Armenian artist. The Friends of Chamber Music will present Babayan Nov. 3 at the Folly Theater.
In addition to winning first prizes at the Robert Casadesus International Piano, the Palm Beach International, The Scottish International and the Busoni International Piano Competitions, among others, Babayan has performed as soloist with world-renowned orchestras like the Cleveland Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Babayan will perform an all-Chopin program for his recital at the Folly. Chopin is a composer with whom Babayan has a special affinity. It should also be mentioned that Babayan is the teacher of one of classical music’s current superstars, the Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov.
2:30 p.m. Nov. 3. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $35. 816-561-9999 or www.chambermusic.org.
Village Presbyterian Church regularly offers concerts featuring its superb music department to raise money for a local charity. On Nov. 3, the choirs of Village Church on Mission and Village Church on Antioch, led by Village Presbyterian’s director of music, Will Breytspraak, will join forces for “Let My Love Be Heart.”
The program will include works by Caroline Shaw, Stephen Paulus and Jake Runestad. The concert is free, but any donations will benefit Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City. For more information, visit www.habitatkc.org.
3 p.m. Nov. 3. Village Presbyterian, 6641 Mission Road, Prairie Village. Free. For more information, visit www.villagepres.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.