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Archive for Sunday, March 4, 1990

FOR SINGERS, OPERA TOURS TAX ABILITIES

March 4, 1990

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Stage, hotel, bus, stage, hotel, bus and maybe some opera in between.

That's life on the road for Geraldine McMillan, the soprano who will sing the part of Mimi in "La Boheme" on Tuesday night in Lawrence.

"You take a lot of vitamins on the bus with you," said McMillan of the New York City Opera Touring Company. "I took up needlepoint. I can't read on the bus, because it's bumpy, and I can't seem to sleep on the bus either. You take a lot of vitamin C tables and B 12, you try to take as much as possible. I've so far been lucky I haven't caught a cold, because everybody around me has one."

The 1896 Puccini opera, set on the bohemian Left Bank of the Seine in Paris, chronicles the ups and downs of four artists living in the early 19th century in a cold garret. One of the men, the poet Rodolfo, falls desparately in love with Mimi, a frail seamstress and companion in avant-garde poverty.

"IT'S FULL OF melody; it's one of the most melodic of Puccini's operas," said James Seaver, a KU emeritus professor and host of an opera program on KANU-FM. "It's gone on to become one of the most frequently performed operas in the world right now."

Although the bohemian artists, their loves and their enemies make up one of the more colorful assortments of characters in opera, Mimi is basically a shy heroine. The performer playing Mimi must use her musical ability to carry the role.

"If the actress is very good and has a beautiful voice, it can be a very appealing role," Seaver said.

For McMillan, bringing Mimi to life is a challenge.

"She's shy, but that's just one aspect of the character," McMillan said. "It's difficult, because the audience has to be taken with her the first time we see her. If you believe that before she's met Rodolfo she's seen him in the neighborhood and fallen in love with him, that's another aspect of the character the audience can pick up on."

ON THE ROAD since mid-January, the opera company takes a touring ensemble of 75 singers, musicians and technicians for 51 performances in 24 states. The company serves as a training tour for artists who may later play with the main company, McMillan said. The tour carries two casts, who alternate performances.

Since the road tour operates on a separate contract from the mother company housed at the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center, the company kept touring last year despite a musicians' strike in New York. This year is the fourth the company has played in Lawrence.

Because the company plays in so many theaters, the performances can vary greatly, said William Robertson, the company's conductor.

"When you're playing in Lincoln Center, you'll be in the same house for all six performances, so you know what kind of effects you'll have," Robertson said. "But on the road, sometimes the orchestra pit is so deep the orchestra can't hear the singers, and the singers can't hear the orchestra. In that case, the conductor becomes extremely important."

ROBERTSON SAID he plans a traditional approach to the opera's music.

"With Puccini, if you follow the score, 95 percent of the performance is explained by the composer," he said. "The notations pretty much describe how Puccini wanted the score played. We're paying attention to what the composer intended."

The opera is one of Seaver's favorites; he said he's seen more than a dozen productions.

"Some people say the music is so melodic that it's almost saccharin," Seaver said. "But I don't think so."

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