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La Bohème’ to take stage as first ‘Opera Cabaret’ performance from Opera Columbus

Courtesy of Stev Guyer

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Take everything you think you know about opera, then forget it all – because Columbus’ production of “La Bohème” is returning to offer audience members a new way to experience it.

“La Bohème” is scheduled to begin performances Sunday at Shadowbox Live’s Backstage Bistro. The production is the result of a collaboration between Shadowbox Live and Opera Columbus and is the first in a new series created by Opera Columbus called Opera Cabaret.

Though based on the Italian opera that inspired the Broadway hit “Rent,” this production comes with some new twists. Opera Cabaret, said Opera Columbus’ general manager Peggy Kriha Dye, is a program that introduces audiences to operas in shortened, hourlong productions, translated into English and performed in contemporary settings. 

“The goal is to try to take some of the fear out of opera,” said John David Nevergall, who plays Rodolfo in the show.

The opera focuses on the love story of Rodolfo and Mimi as they attempt to navigate through some of life’s challenges. While it’s the first production in the Opera Cabaret series, this is not the first set of shows for “La Bohème.”

The non-traditional opera is making a return due to its popularity in its first run this past fall, which left the Bistro filled to capacity for the shows, Dye said. The Bistro can seat about 90 people for the opera.

To make the show more relevant to its audience, Dye said performers will wear modern dress and reference popular destinations throughout Columbus, such as Martini Modern Italian and Cup o’ Joe coffee house. The production’s director, Shadowbox Live’s executive producer and CEO Stev Guyer, said the references were inserted to help viewers connect with the show.

“When you’re doing something like modernizing a show and setting it in an unusual environment, it helps the audience connect with the material,” Guyer said. “The way to make that connection happen was just to literally add locations that were local, add references that were extremely topical.”

A twist can also be seen with the intimate setting of the performance itself, as Guyer said Backstage Bistro, Shadowbox Live’s in-house coffee shop, is a more interactive venue than an auditorium.

“One of the beautiful things about it is that, traditionally, opera separates the performer from the audience with a big stage,” Guyer said. “Here, the audience can sometimes quite literally be seated within inches of a soprano belting an aria.”

Nevergall called “La Bohème” a “roller coaster ride,” saying there are moments that range from hilarious to tragic. He also said he thinks the performance achieves Opera Cabaret’s goal of debunking the myths surrounding opera.

“You think opera is nothing but large women singing in German, (but) it’s not,” Nevergall said. “We can tell a story that you’re going to be able to invest in, we’re going to tell it in a way that you can understand and it’s going to be something that you can really attach yourself to.”

The performers – seven cast members and one musical director – are scheduled to put on the show every Sunday through April 14, with the exception of March 3 and March 31. 

Shadowbox Live is located at 503 S. Front St. Admission is free, but Dye said a select amount of premium seats can be reserved for $10 each. Reservations are encouraged, as Dye said she expects the show to be just as popular this time around.

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