Opera Santa Barbara’s 25th-season programming spans from this weekend’s La bohème at the Granada to a pair of less renowned but no less fascinating works in the spring at the Lobero — Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in March and Robert Ward’s The Crucible in April. They are united by the organization’s mission to bring together great artists and to engage them in rekindling the soul of opera for a new era. Every opera represents a coalescing of the artistic material with that particular moment in the lives and careers of all those involved. From the musicians and actors to the costume and set designers, everyone will always remember each production as part of their own life story in the art form. Singers age into roles and out of them, taking certain parts in the early stages of their careers and moving on to others as they mature and develop. Directors, too, have career arcs that must be attended to and sustained by careful calibration of the individual to the opportunity.
This is one of the reasons why it’s a thrill to welcome director Omer Ben Seadia back to Santa Barbara for La bohème. She made her debut here in 2015 with a pair of brilliant efforts — L’italiana in Algeri and A Streetcar Named Desire. She returns as a rising star in the greater operatic world with both more professional training at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where she earned a degree in directing, and a substantial body of recent experience, including multiple world premieres of new works and large productions of some of the traditional repertoire’s most challenging pieces.
For maestro Kostis Protopapas, the artistic and general director of Opera Santa Barbara, Ben Seadia’s return comes at the right moment, as she will bring a “younger person’s approach” to her first La bohème, thus balancing the fact that this will also be “a traditional production.” “She has conducted an extensive study of the period and the sources,” Protopapas said, and that means this version will “stay close to what these kids were like.” By “these kids,” of course he means the unforgettable denizens of Paris who populate the work’s fast-moving, four-act libretto. Musetta, Mimì, Rodolfo, and Marcello must communicate what it is to be cold and hungry while still finding a way to live in the moment and experience powerful sensations of love and friendship.
In Greek soprano Eleni Calenos, Protopapas believes he has found a singer whose experience — she has sung the role many times — will make her a ravishing Mimì. Likewise, he feels that Nathan Granner, with whom he has worked before on this opera, embodies the contrasting tendencies that make for an ideal Rodolfo. “It’s a hard role to sing,” Protopapas said of Rodolfo, “and yet the performer must also project a youthful innocence that’s quite elusive.” There are many tenors who might relish the opportunity to sing one of the repertoire’s greatest leading roles, but Granner has the ability to be vulnerable and to allow the part’s disarming naivete to come to the fore.
Ultimately, this fully staged production at the Granada is intended to represent Opera Santa Barbara’s commitment to artists in every category who have worked with the company before. “The primary responsibility of the organization is to give voice to the artists,” said Protopapas. “I believe in investing in artists, and I know that it’s better for the audience when this is happening. Each performance should be catalytic. That’s part of what makes it great.”
For a chance to share in these dynamic changes, and to shed a tear or more at the sad fate of darling Mimì, join the audience for La bohème.
Opera Santa Barbara presents La bohème Friday, November 9, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 11, 2:30 p.m., at The Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). Call 899-2222 or see granadasb.org.