Last spring, the Eastman Theatre stage was dressed up and the Rochester community was treated to several spectacular performance’s of Puccini’s opera “La Bohme.”

The extremely popular and well-attended opera has helped to foster success for its cast. Perhaps the most successful opera in recent Eastman history, it proved to be a great experience for all who were involved.

Melissa Kelly, one of the two singers who performed the role of Mimi, felt “like [the role] came along at the exact right moment, and it helped my singing grow immensely.”

“La Bohme” also proved to be a springboard for the other singer who played the role of Mimi, Janinah Burnett.

Burnett recently won a role as Mimi in the new and highly notable Broadway production. Burnett, who graduated with a master’s in vocal performance from Eastman in 2002, won the job this summer.

The auditions, which were held in New York City, were extremely competitive, resulting in a cast that is multi-cultural and quite young.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, acclaimed director of “Romeo and Juliet” and other films, the new setting of the opera bases much of its appeal on appearance.

Unlike traditional opera, the Broadway setting focuses more on creating an appealing set and cast of characters. Thus the voice, which is so highly idolized in traditional opera, plays more of a collaborative role in creating an interesting and entertaining version of the opera.

As Burnett explained, “The aim is to get people who would generally not go see opera on claims that it is boring or stuffy to go and see it anyway.”

The new production of “La Bohme,” which opens in San Francisco, is financially and artistically risky. For diehard opera fans, the Broadway “La Bohme” may be a little shocking.

Following in the style of Puccini, the opera is both romantic and unhurried.

However, Luhrmann’s vision of linking one of opera’s most beloved masterpieces with Broadway remains innovative and exciting, with emphasis on appearance and a setting in the 1950s.

The Eastman Opera Theater has long been an important and integral part of the Eastman School. The opera program, which performs two operas each year, continues its tradition of excellence next week, when the Eastman School of Music presents “The Turk in Italy” by Gioacchino Rossini. Look in next week’s edition for a preview of the upcoming event.

“The Turk in Italy” will be presented Thursday, Oct. 31 through Sunday, Nov. 2. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances will begin at 8 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall. Sunday’s matinee performance begins at 2 p.m. The performances promise to be of the caliber of previous opera productions and they are an opportunity not to be missed.

Frisof can be reached at

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