A! Magazine for the Arts

Cornelia Laemmli-Orth, music director of the Symphony of the Mountains.

Cornelia Laemmli-Orth, music director of the Symphony of the Mountains.

La Bohème tells tragic tale of love & passion

October 1, 2019

Cornelia Laemmli-Orth, music director of the Symphony of the Mountains, loves music — particularly opera — and loves collaborations. So, the upcoming production of “La Bohème” is particularly prized, as it involves both.

“Opera is one of the strongest expressions of music. It all starts with the libretto – the story. It then adds music, acting, costume design, stage design, make-up and hair, and directing to that literature. This production is also a collaboration between the symphony, Opera Ithaca, the Voices of the Mountains and the Mountain Empire Children’s Choral Academy,” she says.

The story of “La Bohème” is a tragic love story, a story of struggling artists, passion, jealousy, sorrow and loss. Audience members who have seen the musical “Rent” will recognize much of the opera’s plot.

“’La Bohème’ is absolutely spectacularly beautiful, and there are many melodies that will be recognized by people. They may not know that the music is from the opera, but they’ll recognize it. If you’re an opera fan, you’ll love ‘La Bohème.’ If you’ve never heard an opera, it’s very approachable.

“Thematically, the opera is still relevant. We still talk about the same issues, such as the position of women or minority groups in our society,” Laemmli-Orth says.

The symphony’s production is staged but without the full, elaborate sets that you’d have in an opera house. The orchestra will share the stage with the costumed performers and small stage sets.

Laemmli-Orth conducts the opera first with Opera Ithaca in Ithaca, New York, and then brings “La Bohème” on the road to this region. “Putting together an opera is very involved,expensive and complicated. I think we’re very fortunate that an opera house ofthis caliber is collaborating with us. They have the director, set designer, costume designer and all thepeople it takes to create something this complex,” she says.

After the performances in New York, Laemmli-Orth and Emily Pulley, director, will redo the stage movements twice – once for theMcGlothlin Center for the Arts at Emory & Henry College, Emory, Virginia, and once for the Toy F. Reid Eastman Employee Center in Kingsport, Tennessee. Why twice? The stages are not the same size.

“It’s a challenge putting on a production inIthaca, Kingsport and Emory. We have to adjust to where the actors put their movements together with the orchestra in a new venuewith one rehearsal. It’s a very interestingchallenge,” she says.

“The Voices and MECCA are very involved in the second act. It’ll be interesting for them to be a part of an opera productionrather than a concert. They’ll be singing in costume and learning the staging. I’m hoping that the children will be hooked on operaafter being a part of a professional stage production. It will be a marvelous memory for everyone,” she says.

Opera newcomers will be able to follow all the action through the story description in the program books and the English subtitleson big screens for the Italian lyrics.

“’La Bohème’ is a great first opera. The plot is interesting, the characters are interesting. The music is beautiful, and no one willbe bored. It just takes one performance to get over the anxiety of whether opera is for you — and then you’re good,” she says.

There are two opportunities to see “La Bohème.” Saturday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., at the McGlothlin Center for the Arts on the Emory &Henry campus, Emory, Va. Sunday, Oct. 6, at 3 pm., at the Eastman Employee Center, Kingsport, Tennessee. Tickets are $35 foradults; students are admitted free.