BLOG: Meet La bohème chorus members Paul Gutmann and Gillian Gauntt

Get to know Paul Gutmann and Gillian Gauntt 

The MN Opera Chorus plays a critical role in nearly every MN Opera production. By filling out harmonies with their voices or bringing scenes to life with their acting abilities, they can infuse the action on stage with comedy, pathos, and everything in between. This is particularly true in MN Opera’s current production of La bohèmeStage Director Rodula Gaitanou writes in her program notes that “life is like a river, the flow will continue and strong currents will either lead you to extraordinary places or drown you in its depths.” The performers of the chorus are a big part of what this looks like in practice. Mimì, Rodolfo, and their friends live out the extreme highs and lows of the bohemian experience while surrounded on all sides by the city of Paris, full to the brim with individuals on their own journeys and with their own stories, reminding audiences that no matter what happens, life goes on. 

We caught up with two members of the MN Opera Chorus, Paul Gutmann and Gillian Gauntt, to chat about what they are bringing to the production, their own experience of La bohème, and where else they perform in the Twin Cities. 

How long have you been performing with MN Opera? What was your first show? 

Paul Gutmann: I have performed in the MN Opera Chorus since the fall of 2017, with the exception of the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons while I attended grad school. My first show was The Marriage of Figaro in the Fall of 2017. 

Gillian Gauntt: My first performance was just last season in the chorus of Don Giovanni

Can you share a favorite memory from your time in the MN Opera Chorus? 

PG: I have so many fond memories of my time working with MN Opera, but one of my favorite memories was arriving backstage at the Ordway for the first time. I was completely awestruck by just how large the backstage area was, and I remember thinking, “I’ve seen so many concerts and shows here over the years, and now I’m actually performing here!” It was truly a surreal experience that I will carry with me for a very long time. 

GG: One of my favorite memories was getting to bond with my fellow Don Giovanni castmates by playing board games and sharing performance stories backstage every night! 

Another was getting to perform at the Ordway for the very first time. I’ll never forget how amazing and special it felt to take my first bow on a professional stage with so many of my loved ones in the audience.  

Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème is one of the most popular operas of the entire genre. Have you ever been in a production? What do you think continues to draw audiences and artists alike to this piece? 

PG: I have never performed in nor even seen a production of La bohème, so this is all very new and exciting for me! I think this work remains so popular because of its relatability. Though the situations are dramatized, the themes explored in this work are familiar to so many of us: financial hardship, falling in and out of love, dynamics between friends, death, etc. This is quintessential verismo opera – the depiction of everyday people and situations – and when you throw Puccini’s lush orchestration and soaring melodies into the mix, you’re left with an opera of incredible power, emotion, and universality. 

GG: I’ve seen La bohème a couple of times, but this is my first time performing in it, so it’s been really fun exploring the music and stories from this perspective. The main thing that has stood out to me during our rehearsals is Puccini’s way of painting a distinct scenic image as well as each character’s emotion through his score. It’s such effective and passionate storytelling, it’s very easy to be drawn in whether it’s your first bohème or your fifteenth. 

Each of you are performing in drag during MN Opera’s production. Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about what that looks like? How does it fit into the scene and into the overall direction of the show? 

PG: Without giving too much away, you will see one of us in drag amongst the chorus in Act II, and you will see both of us in drag at a nightclub in Act III. 

Though the art of drag has existed for a very long time, it has become much more mainstream in recent years, largely due to the popularity of the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. As a result, most larger cities have a drag community, so the inclusion of drag in this production adds another modern element to the present-day telling of this story. 

GG: My character is actually in drag the whole time, which is incredibly fun! Without giving too much away, they play an important role in a certain infamous and disreputable circle of people, so I think being in drag lets them express their identity openly while also conveying their confidence, influence, and power. 

What kind of drag experience do you have outside of this production? What is it like to bring that experience to the Ordway stage? 

PG: My first experience in drag was in my college’s drag show. After college, I began performing in the Twin Cities, primarily in amateur drag competitions. I also had the opportunity to play the Sorceress in Dido and Aeneas when I was in grad school. Drag is a very important way of expression for me, both as a performer and artist and also as a queer person, and being able to combine my love for drag and opera in this production of La bohème is very special for me. 

GG: Drag is a huge piece of how I found my LGBTQ+ community here in the Twin Cities and it’s helped me become more confident and proud of my own queer and trans identity since moving here. I recently made my own drag debut just a few months ago, so it feels incredibly special to be one of the performers bringing this fabulous and vibrant art form to a traditionally classical arts space like the Ordway.  

Each of you are active performers around the Twin Cities outside of your work with MN Opera. Where else can audiences hear you sing? 

PG: Since the official end of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am singing more frequently with Opera on Tap, an amazing organization that brings opera to those who might not typically interact with it. I also sing in the Chancel Choir at White Bear Lake United Methodist Church and as a cantor at St. Jude of the Lake Catholic Church. 

GG: I sing in Opera on Tap, One Voice Mixed Chorus, and in a lot of independently produced performances around the cities, so I’m never too hard to find! 

Catch Paul, Gillian, and the rest of the MN Chorus in La bohème, on stage now through May 19! 

Stay in Touch With Our Newsletter

Support the Opera and Donate

Donate Now