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'La Bohème' highlights 2023 Berkshire Opera Festival Season

Festival includes fall workshop debut of new opera, 'The Reef' and two concerts

Opera file photo

Megan Moore, second from right, performs in Berkshire Opera Festival's 2022 mainstage production,"Don Giovanni." Moore will return in July for one of two festival concerts, part of a season highlighted by Giacomo Puccini's "La Bohème."

One of opera’s all-time favorites will take the stage in Pittsfield this summer.  

Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème” will highlight Berkshire Opera Festival’s eighth season, the company announced Tuesday, with performances Aug. 26, Aug. 29 and Sept. 1 at the Colonial Theatre.

The opera festival all announced that it will hold two Great Barrington concerts that span the genre and will debut a new opera with local roots in New York City in the fall. 

“It’s one of the world’s most beloved operas,” Brian Garman, festival co-founder and artistic director said during an interview with The Eagle on Tuesday. “Maybe more than any other composer, I think that Puccini knew how to write music for his operas to create maximum emotional impact … When we go to the theater, we want to be taken on a journey, don’t we?”

The classic opera tells a heartbreaking love story on the fringes of Paris, with a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on the book by Henri Murger.

After a chance Christmas Eve meeting in the sparse apartment shared among a cast of Bohemian friends, Rodolfo and neighbor Mimì fall deeply in love, according to BOF’s synopsis, before we follow the action to a bustling celebration on someone else’s centime. Later, an ill Mimì decries Rodolfo’s jealousy, but he inadvertently reveals he is trying to drive her away, hoping a man of more means can support and cure her. In agreement but unable to break it off just yet, the opera dives into its agonizing fourth act of poverty, love and despair.

“Boy meets girl,” Garman summarized. “And then life happens.”

“La Bohème” has been a staple of the operatic rotation since its 1896 premiere. It’s the loose basis for the Broadway musical “Rent” and a perennial favorite.

Garman, and co-founder Jonathon Loy, have often spoken about their company’s DNA — and that, if they had started out with “top five” hits like “Carmen,” “The Barber of Seville” or “Bohème,” they would have been stuck with them. What’s changed?

“The time has come,” Garman said, citing a long-held desire to present the opera on his part and that of audience members. “The fact that pieces like ‘La Bohème’ have stayed around in the repertoire and remained so popular over the years … is not an accident. It’s because they’re great pieces.”

BOF’s production stars Whitney Morrison and Yongzhao Yu as Mimì and Rodolfo, with Benjamin Taylor, Véronique Filloux, Evan Lazdowski, Ethan Vincent and James Demler rounding out the cast.

Garman called the troupe a “world-class cast of artists.” It’s also a remarkably diverse one.

“The first priority for all of our productions … is to, plain and simple, get the best possible people available to sing the roles,” he said. “But we do also make diversity in our casting a real priority. … It’s something we believe in very strongly, and it’s important not only for us but for the future of the art form.”

Dramaturg Cori Ellison will offer a free talk before the premiere, at noon Aug. 26. Tickets range from $20 to $120 through the Colonial Theatre box office.


Can’t wait till August? The festival will offer operagoers a chance to sate their French fix with “To Paris With Love: Opera in the City of Light” on April 16 at Saint James Place in Great Barrington. Soprano Amanda Batista, tenor Ryan Capozzo and baritone Yazid Gray will take the audience on a tour of Parisian-set opera.

Tickets are $50, with a premium tier that includes a post-show artists’ reception with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar for $100.

Later, the opera festival will tackle a more ambitious tour, across the breadth of opera itself, with “Breaking the Mold: Baroque, Bel Canto, and Beyond” on July 22 at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. Baritone Vincent will appear, along with soprano Jacqueline Piccolino, tenor Alex McKissick and mezzo-soprano Megan Moore, who starred as Donna Elvira in last summer’s “Don Giovanni.”

Tickets are $60, with the similar premium tier for $120, available through the Mahaiwe box office.

"I'm big on programs having themes and consistent thematic lines through them," Garman said. "The whole program has to hang together and make sense as a whole."

All tickets go on sale Feb. 15, though festival donors get early access to tickets Wednesday. Students, teachers and patrons under 30 can see both concerts for $20 each.

Garman said the low starting price is intentional.

“This is a challenge … that all the performing arts are facing: how to bring new audiences into the theater,” he said. “You have to do it with your programming, and you have to do it with particular kinds of outreach. … Part of our founding mission, in fact, was to make opera accessible and affordable to everyone in the Berkshires.”

On Nov. 16, Berkshire Opera Festival travels to New York City, where it will give a workshop performance of “The Reef,” a new opera by Anthony Davis with a libretto by Joan Ross Sorkin, based on the novel by Edith Wharton, who once lived in Lenox. Davis is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer whose work has included “The Central Park Five” and “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.”

“Whatever we present, we try to look at it in a new way, whether it is taking a fresh look at a standard repertoire piece, … or whether it is actually creating new work,” Garman said. “If you are not producing new works, then the art form has no future.”


Tickets on sale at noon, Feb. 15. Donor tickets available Feb. 8. 

Information: BerkshireOperaFestival.org

COVID protocols: At the time of the announcement, masks are recommended, unless the host venue has a different policy. 


'La Bohème'

What: Opera's greatest love story. By Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, directed by Jonathon Loy Sung in Italian with projected English translations. 

Where: Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield

When: 1 p.m. Aug. 26; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29 and Sept. 1

Tickets: $20-120

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including intermission.

Ticket sales: 413-997-4444, berkshiretheatregroup.org

'To Paris with Love: Opera in the City of Light'

What: A tour through a repertoire of some of the most memorable operas set in Paris with some of opera’s up-and-coming stars.

With: Amanda Batista, soprano; Ryan Capozzo, tenor; Yazid Gray, baritone; Francesco Barfoed, pianist. 

Where: Saint James Place, 352 Main St., Great Barrington

When: 2 p.m., April 16

Running time: 2 hours, with intermission

Tickets: $100, premium tickets; $50, general admission; $20, students, teachers and under 30 with ID (concert-only). 

Ticket sales: berkshireoperafestival.org

'Breaking the Mold: Baroque, Bel Canto, and Beyond'

What: An afternoon of arias and ensembles that span over 200 years of operatic composition.

With: Jacqueline Piccolino, soprano; Megan Moore, mezzo-soprano; Alex McKissick, tenor; Ethan Vincent, baritone; Travis Bloom, pianist.

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St., Great Barrington

When: 2 p.m. July 22

Tickets: $20-120

Ticket sales: 413-528-0100, mahaiwe.org

'The Reef'

What: A public workshop of a new work that adapts Edith Wharton's 1912 novel telling the story of a widow and her former lover. Composed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Anthony Davis; libretto by Joan Ross Sorkin.

Where: TBA, New York City 

When: Nov. 16

Page One Design Editor

Evan Berkowitz joined The Eagle in 2018 after graduating from the University of Maryland. He became page one design editor in 2019.

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