"I want the audience to feel the characters' struggles, triumphs, joys, lust and tragedies," said baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, who is making his directorial debut with "La bohème." "This opera speaks to all and is why 'La bohème' has endured for over 120 years and is going stronger than ever."
The opera unfolds the tale of a painter, a musician, a philosopher, a seamstress and a singer, who all have big dreams but no money -- and the rent is past due. But they are not starving for love of life or each other.
Brancoveanu will also sing the role of the painter, Marcello, a role he's done three times before and for which he received a Tony Award in 2003.
"Eugene's Tony award-winning performance in the Broadway version of 'La bohème' was a key factor in our choosing him to direct LVO's production," said Elizabeth Wells, LVO's executive director.
"This is truly an amazing and a tremendous privilege for me," Brancoveanu said about his directing. "I have spent the last six months preparing for this opera. I've imagined the design of the set, lighting, costumes, staging entire acts in my head and casting the roles to finalize our stellar cast.
"Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think, 'Wow, rehearsals are just 15 days away. What did you get yourself into this time?'" he added with a laugh. "Singing and staging one of, if not the most, beloved opera of all time -- it's just amazing."
Brancoveanu's vision for "La bohème" is to bring the characters in Puccini's drama to an emotional level for the audience.
"I want to display for the audience the unbridled passion and intimacy between the characters," he explained. "I want the audience to feel the same heat that I as Marcello feel when Musetta kisses me violently at the end of Act Two. They must cry with Rodolfo's tears in Act Four and think with Colline's philosophic mind.
"While maintaining a sense of fundamental truth to the opera, I want the audience to feel as I do as director and performer, that every second of the characters' Bohemian existence is filled with the timeless struggle of keeping their dreams alive, even at the cost of their own lives," he continued.
Singing the role of Mimi, the seamstress, is soprano and Metropolitan Opera artist Marie Plette, who sang the title role in LVO's production of "Tosca" earlier this year. Tenor David Gustafson sings poet Rodolfo, (he was Cavaradossi in "Tosca") and bass-baritone Phillip Skinner, who convincingly portrayed the evil Scarpia alongside Plette in "Tosca," will sing the role of philosopher Colline. Soprano Kristin Clayton will portray the singer Musetta.
Though some opera companies shy from traditional productions of the most often performed operas like "La bohème," LVO does not.
"Grand opera, the tried and true favorites, produced in a traditional sense as the composers intended is what LVO does best," Wells said. "This opera was built for the ages, it's timeless. With opulent sets, elaborate costumes and outstanding talent, LVO's productions are no longer a hidden treasure, but recognized as quality, professional experiences."
Tale of starving artists
What: "La bohème"
Who: Livermore Valley Opera
Where: Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore
When: 8 p.m., Saturdays, Oct. 6 and 13; 2 p.m., Sundays, Oct. 7 and 14.
Cost: $39-$74. Students 18 years and younger, $10 off.
Tickets: Box office at theater; call 373-6800; www.livermoreperformingarts.com
Other: Pre-opera talks held one hour prior to curtain; artist reception in lobby immediately following performances
Special: Opening Night Gala celebration dinner at Uncle Yu's at the Vineyard, at 4:30 p.m.; $75 through box office
Three cast members from "La bohème" will give a free one-hour performance at 2 pm., Sunday, Sept. 30, at the Pleasanton Library, 400 Old Bernal Ave. The OperaLIVE! event is part of the Livermore Valley Opera outreach and is sponsored by Friends of Pleasanton Library. It will be followed by a question and answer period.