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Note by glorious note, opera arrives on Vashon
Island music aficionados will be transported to the streets, garrets and cafés of Paris this month, when Giacomo Puccini’s beloved opera, La Bohème, springs to life on the stage of Vashon High School on Sept. 18 and 20.
The performances will mark the much-anticipated debut of Vashon Opera, a homegrown opera company founded by Jennifer Krikawa, a slender, full-throated soprano who moved to the Island with her husband Andy Krikawa — an accomplished baritone — in 2005.
Jennifer, who is president, artistic director and one of the stars of Vashon Opera, said La Bohème was “an obvious choice” for the company’s first production.
“It’s an exciting opera with incredibly beautiful music,” she said, adding that La Bohème is full of “moments of hilarity and others of intense sadness.”
The opera, which had its first performance in Turin in 1896 under the baton of maestro Arturo Toscanini, tells the story of a group of young, impoverished artists, poets, philosophers and musicians who live life to the fullest during the turbulent time immediately following the French Revolution of 1830.
In a move designed to make the opera — which will be sung in Italian — more accessible to Vashon audiences, English supratitles of the lyrics will be projected above the stage.
“We believe it’s really important that people understand what’s going on in the story,” said Jennifer.
Another twist unique to Vashon’s production is that the action of Bohème will be moved forward in time.
“Because the opera was originally set in 1830, a period now alien to us, I decided to set it in 1942,” explained Elizabeth Ripley, a well-known Island performer and stage artist who is directing the production.
Ripley, who is also singing the principal role of Musetta in the opera, described occupied Paris as a “a time of war, occupation and limited choices, a place and time that, for me, helps explain why the lovers behave as they do.”
Ripley, whose long resumé includes nine seasons in the Seattle Opera chorus, has recruited a constellation of well-known singers to appear in the production.
The opera will also boast a chorus composed of Island singers and musicians, culled from Vashon’s vibrant choral and classical music scenes.
Jennifer Krikawa will sing the role of Mimi, the sickly seamstress whose tragic love affair with the poet Rodolfo provides much of the La Bohème’s emotional wallop.
She’ll bring a wealth of experience to the role, having sung with opera companies such as New York City Opera, Virginia Opera, Connecticut Opera, Sarasota Opera, Annapolis Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera and Israel Vocal Arts Institute.
Karl Reyes, the tenor who portrays Rodolfo, is another up-and-coming name in the Northwest, known for his work as a soloist with such companies as Tacoma Opera, Bellevue Opera, Skagit Opera and Seattle Opera.
Another principal role, Marcello, an artist, will be played by Andy Krikawa, who has sung with New York City Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Virginia Opera, Cedar Rapids Opera, Opera Festival of New Jersey, Nashville Opera, Annapolis Opera, Central City Opera, Pensacola Opera, Eugene Opera and DiCapo Opera Theatre.
Other well-known performers in the production are Michael Dunlap, in the role of Colline, Jonathan Silvia as Benoit and Cliff Watson, who plays Schaunard.
“This is my third time in La Bohème, but my first time in the role of Schaunard,” explained Watson. “I love the beautiful music, of course, but what’s really exciting is how performing every scene is such an ensemble experience, one character jumping in on top of the next with dialogue, action and intention. We’re all surviving together, just like the Bohemians.”
These professionals will be joined onstage by Vashon singers, including Marita Ericksen and Gary Koch, who have roles as a mother and toy seller in the opera’s boisterous second act.
The second act also features a children’s chorus of nine young Island singers who were auditioned and rehearsed by Ericksen.
“It’s been wonderful fun,” Ericksen said of her work with the children. “They have quickly picked up singing in Italian and love being in the company of professional opera singers.”
For Alivia Jones, one of the pint-sized chorus members, being a part of the production has been a fun and eye-opening experience.
“Whenever I’m just singing a few words of pretend opera for my friends, it cracks them up,” she said. “But here, it’s hard when you’re singing so fast. And Italian is a strange language, until you get used to it.”
All of the singers, both young and old, will sing to the piano accompaniment of musical director Evan Stults, an Islander whose experience encompasses opera, musical theatrer, choral music, recital and cabaret. Since 1986, Stults has been the principal accompanist for the Seattle Men’s Chorus, and he has also played for the Seattle Opera and Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theatre. His career also includes performances in Carnegie Hall and Benaroya Hall.
Stults will be joined by a group of professional instrumentalists, including Karin Choo on violin, Janeen Bramwell on flute and Leslie McMichael on harp.
Lillian Ripley has designed the set and costumes for the production, and Megan Armezzani has designed the lights.
For Vashon Opera’s founder, the entire process of readying the opera has been inspirational.
“The voices are spectacular, and during the rehearsals we have found a true camaraderie,” Jennifer said.
She urged Islanders not to miss La Bohème.
“Tickets have been selling very well,” she said. “Many people have mentioned they are going, but don’t have tickets. So if you are sure of your intention, please get them now. There are only two performances.”
La Bohème will play at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, at Vashon High School. Tickets, $20 general admission and $18 for students and seniors, are on sale at www.vashonopera.org, Books by the Way and Vashon Bookshop.