La bohème: Meet The Artists

Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème features some of the most captivating music ever written to tell this enduring story of love, loss, and life. We are lucky to have four incredible singers join us to portray the characters of Rodolfo and Mimì. Recently, Christian Sanders, Won Whi Choi, Melinda Whittington and Symone Harcum sat down to answer a few questions about themselves and their roles.

Describe your character in three words:

WWC: Passionate, Romantic, Impulsive

CS: Passionate, Poetic, Vulnerable

MW: Generous, Solitary, Wise

SH: Passionate, Sincere, Courageous

What are some of the joys and challenges of performing this role?

WWC: Every time I play Rodolfo on stage, I think about what love really means in my life. The various emotions depicted within Puccini’s melodies resonate with me more deeply on stage than when I simply watch or listen to opera. From the excitement of first love to the deeper journey of Rodolfo’s love story, it makes me reflect on my own experiences. But sometimes, focusing too much on the emotions can make it hard to sing technically well. For example, in Rodolfo’s aria “Che gelida manina” in Act 1, the high C, which symbolizes love’s hope and is simultaneously desired and feared by tenors, can be challenging. And in the scene where Mimì is dying and returns to Rodolfo, it can bring back memories of losing someone important. Still, I must gather my thoughts, control my breath, and continue singing. Playing Rodolfo is both beautiful and challenging—it’s about becoming part of the beautiful music and story while staying on track with my performance.

CS: This role offers the joy of expressing a wide emotional range through Puccini’s iconic melodies and building deep and interesting on-stage relationships, yet demands considerable vocal stamina and technique, as well as the ability to deliver a nuanced acting performance. The challenges lie in balancing the light-hearted aspects of the bohemian lifestyle with the profound depth of love and loss, requiring a sophisticated approach to both singing and acting. It also involves meeting high expectations set by previous interpretations while finding a unique voice in a beloved, classic role.

MW: I’ll start with the challenges, so we can end on a high note! The biggest challenge is how iconic it is! From a vocal standpoint, the difficulty is that the tessitura of the role—or where it sits—is actually quite low. Keeping the low middle voice grounded and well balanced, so that it is present and full, is the biggest challenge for me. The joys are almost too numerous to list! The reasons that La bohème is so timeless below are a huge part of it. Mimì was the spark that made me want to be an opera singer. Listening to Mirelli Freni “Si, mi chiamano Mimì,” I felt deep in my bones at that moment that this, this catharsis of the human experience through the raw power of the human voice and the operatic form, was the way I was created to make a difference on this earth.

SH: Often, for me, the joys and challenges of these roles are one and the same. With Mimí, it is both challenging and intensely satisfying to explore the vastness of her emotional scope. There’s a strength that is present throughout her story, as she acknowledges the reality of her health and still chooses to participate in life while she has time, coupled with the vulnerability of giving herself fully to the prospect of true love.

What themes or messages from La bohème do you think bring audiences back time and time again? In what ways is this piece relevant today?

WWC: Every time La bohème is performed, I feel that every piece of music has a purpose and contributes to creating the atmosphere of the story and situation. The harmony between the drama and the music allows the audience to immerse themselves in the story from beginning to end. And the story deals with relatable themes of love, friendship, the passion of youth, and the process of maturation through failure. In the relationships of characters that could exist even today, it makes us think about what is truly precious to us or what we might be missing in our lives.

CS: It resonates so well because it taps into the universal experiences of young love, the challenges of making ends meet, and the warmth of close friendships—themes that everyone can relate to. Plus, its genuine portrayal of life’s joys and sorrows ensures its enduring relevance and emotional impact on modern audiences.

MW: Love and fear are two sides of the same coin and a universal experience. La bohème is timeless because Puccini has created such REAL characters. The story captures deep truths about love, friendship, societal structures, and the value of art and artists within that society. Puccini capitalizes on the operatic form’s power to express raw human emotion, but without the trappings of pretentious grand opera that can feel unapproachable to a modern audience.

SH: Well, it has everything: true friendship, light hearted fun, intense love, comedy, tragedy, GORGEOUS music… And this list is non-exhaustive. Why wouldn’t we come back? The story of La bohème stands as one of the most relatable in the operatic canon. Every person on earth experiences highs and lows, ease and hardship, bliss and tragedy. It remains relevant because it centers on the most human of experiences—ones that every audience member has encountered or knows they will one day experience.

What do you hope that audiences will take away from this production?

WWC: Ultimately, my hope is that audiences will be deeply moved by the emotional depth of La bohème and the journey of its characters. I want people to walk away from the performance with a renewed appreciation for the power of love and friendship, as well as a sense of the fleeting nature of life and the importance of cherishing every moment.

CS: I want the audience to feel the raw emotions we’re laying out, recognizing bits of their own stories in ours. Hopefully, they’ll leave with a bit more empathy and a reminder to value the good times and the people who make them special.

MW: Humor, simplicity, relatability, and yes, even a healthy dose of that magical, all-encompassing grandeur that only opera can give! I hope you allow yourself to be transported into the tragic and beautiful world of these young artists, and leave with new insights about yourself, others, and the world around us. Because, and I think all these characters would agree, isn’t that the point of art?

SH: The story, music, and often the stage business of La bohème is very well known to the operatic community, artists and audiences alike. There’s much about the show that we’ve come to expect from the individual characters and the dynamics of their relationships with one another. Our director, Rodula, has opened the door for this cast to interact authentically with the work, without the pressure to do what is “historically” done. I hope that audiences can come away with some surprises and new discoveries.

Do you have any plans for your time in Minnesota?

WWC: This is my third visit to Minnesota, and each time I’ve been here, I’ve been focused on work and haven’t had the chance to experience much. This time, I’ll be accompanied by my adorable 4-year-old daughter and my parents, so I’m excited to explore various attractions in Minnesota with them. We’re planning to do a food tour, go shopping, visit museums, and more. If you have any recommendations for great places to visit, please share them!

CS: I love to eat! 🙂 I definitely want to try some of the new restaurants and eateries in Minneapolis and St. Paul that have popped up since I was a young artist here five years ago. Other than that, you may see me riding my bike around town or getting some outdoor time down at the Minnehaha Dog Park.

MW: I love exploring a new city’s food scene, breweries, coffee shops, and art museums! I have two little ones (Isaac, 5 and Simon, 3) who are staying at home with Daddy for the first time, instead of coming along with me (I’m going to miss those little nuggets so much!!) So when my family comes to visit, we look forward to checking out lots of kid-friendly activities… the Children’s Museum, the Science Museum, Can Can Wonderland, the zoo, a riverboat cruise, and exploring new-to-us playgrounds are currently on the list! Suggestions welcome!

SH: All the things I’ve missed since being away.
1. Walking the river in the north loop.
2. Snack Bar
3. Playing pool with the RAPS at The Hewing
4. Edwards Dessert Kitchen
5. Alotta other things.

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