A Chorister's Bohemian Rhapsody

A deep dive into the many casting choices of La bohème


by Edward Hanlon

La bohème Act 1

(The scene: a shabby radio-studio garret, overlooking the rooftops of Washington D.C.)

Rodolfo: Robert Siegel (Who but the host of All Things Considered could play this part?!)
Mimi: Lakshmi Singh (Hands down best name in NPR, "ma il suo nome è Lucia”.)
Marcello: Steve Inskeep
Musetta: Terry Gross (That flirt!)
Colline: the Car Talk guys (Controversial pick, I know, particularly since one of them has sadly passed away, but their combination of wisdom and humor is perfect for the philosopher-bass.)
Schunard: Ira Glass (Understudy: Ira Flatow)
Alcindoro: Peter Sagal
Benoit: Bill Kurtis (the host & voice of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me should have the comedic chops for these two roles)
Parpingol: an NPR pledge drive
Chorus: the many and variously accented correspondents of the BBC News Service

       It’s possible that I’ve been listening to a bit too much NPR lately 1 . Combine that with Bohème rehearsal and I’m having some… odd day dreams. There’s just something about Bohème that gets into your head, And yet, I’m in my third year in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. I have 30 performances of Bohème under my belt and that number will be far higher by the end of my career 2 . Shouldn’t that familiarity breed boredom (if not contempt)? After all, if it isn’t routine yet, it will be.

       So how can I possibly still have Bohème on the brain?

       Well, to start with, it’s the luscious music, brilliant orchestration and devastating tragedy 3 . And the Met adds a whole new dimension to the drama. The Franco Zefferelli production is iconic 4 (not to mention beautiful and heartbreaking) 5 and has become a vital part of New York City’s cultural landscape. For me though, it’s all about the singers throughout the years. The production premiered on December 14th, 1981 with a dream cast Teresa Stratas as Mimì, José Carreras as Rodolfo, Renato Scotto as Musetta, Richard Stilwell, Allan Monk as Schunard, James Morris as Colline and Italo Tajo as Alcindoro/Benoit. (I’m going to admit that it’s a bit better than my NPR cast.) Over time nothing has changed: names like Domingo, Freni, Frittoli, Netrebko and Alagna have graced that Parisian garret 6 . It’s no different this year: Ailyn Pérez, Kristine Opolais, Dmyto Popov, Piotr Beczała, and Michael Fabiano will carry on that grad legacy. 7

I’m going to admit something: I’ve just listed some amazing singers but not one of them is in my favorite cast. That’s because it’s not my favorite cast because they are the greatest singers ever (although they are some pretty incredible singers!) It’s my favorite cast because of the deep and personal connection this opera creates. On February 22nd, 2003, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman in college, who had never seen an opera, spent a night at The Met; he saw Bohème. The cast starred Elena Kelessidi, Ramón Vargas, Ainhoa Arteta, Vassily Gerello, Earle Patriarco 8 and Richard Bernstein. That was the evening he decided to devote himself to becoming an opera singer. Now, as I look back fourteen years later, I could not be happier with the choice I made. I saw (what will always be for me) the greatest cast perform the greatest production of the greatest opera in the world.

       So, you ask me, why do I have Bohème on the brain? Why am I still excited for every performance? 9 Because it’s my opportunity to give someone in the audience what my greatest cast gave me: a love of opera.

  1. I need my news in the morning!

  1. … at this pace, just under 900!

  1. umm.. yeah… Boheme makes me use lots of adjectives…

  1. Trivia Time: there are three typos on the Act 2 Paris street shop signs. Can you tell me where they are?

  1. My wife, Tanya, cannot see the third act snowfall without crying (which is perfect because it means that she doesn’t see me crying too!)

  1. For the sake of brevity there is no way I can list even a fraction in the body of the article. That’s what footnotes are for: John Alexander, Renato Capecchi, Angela Gheorghiu, Hei-Kyung Hong, Frank Lapardo, Catherine Malfitano, Mark Oswald, Louis Quilico,Teresa Żylis-Gara to name just a few more! You could get happily lost in the Met Archives forever.

  1. Not to mention choristers Daniel Smith, Yohan Yi, Joseph Turi and Raymond Aparentado playing Parpigol, the sergeant, the officer and a dude selling prunes from Tours, respectively.

  1. … who I now sit across from in the chorus dressing room!

  1. … or wake up from day-dreams wondering whether Steve Inskeep or Kai Ryssdal would make a better Marcello or how Robert Siegel and Lakshmi Singh’s vocal colors would compliment each other in Rodolfo and Mimi’s act one duet?

Edward Hanlon, graduate of McGill University and University of Michigan, is a happy Long Island boy making good with the Metropolitan Opera. Favorite roles include Figaro, Sparafucile, Dick Deadeye, Sarastro and Nick Bottom with companies such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Lincoln Center Theatre, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Des Moines Metro Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival. He dreams of singing another Figaro with his beautiful wife, soprano Tanya Roberts. His first novel is is due to be released this summer ... at the end of the 2017-18 season ... umm... someday? Check out his website and follow him on Facebook or Instagram.