Following up on La Femme Bohème…

in Blog/Entertainment & LifeStyle/Weekly
Remember “One Company’s Story of Taking on Gender and Sexuality in Opera?” We followed up with Executive Director of MetroWest Opera, William Neely, and listened in on a conversation he had with Julia Mintzer, who is the stage director for the show. Mintzer is also a freelance opera singer who currently resides in Germany. The show wrapped on May 21st, and has since collected wonderful reviews and sold-out shows. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next!
PHOTO CREDIT: COCO BOARDMAN

1)  How did you end up becoming involved with MetroWest Opera?

I met Dana in grad school at BU and worked with her at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute back in 20010, and our schedules finally lined up for this show.

2) What attracted you to the idea of a an all-female opera and La Femme Bohème in particular

I’ve always wanted to do a Boheme of course, because it’s such a chestnut that has already been reinvented so many times, that it’s an exciting challenging to find a way to tell the story that is important and relevant enough to justify telling it again. The all-female part of it was all Dana’s idea.  I would have done the project either way, but this gave me another piece of the puzzle of how it would take shape.

Interview with Stage Director Julia Mintzer

Going into opening night for the Purple Cast, here is an interview with Stage Director Julia Mintzer. We're sold out tonight, but there are four shows this weekend!

Posted by MetroWest Opera on Friday, May 19, 2017

3) What is your concept, as a director, for this show?

The opera is set within a contemporary protest again the corporate establishment, in the vein of Occupy Wall Street.  The aim of that setting is to ask the audience to question the trope of romanticizing poverty, and to posit the idea that this story, which we like to dismiss as anachronistic, could happen today without much updating. It is completely feasible that someone like Mimi, a young woman living in a large American city, could die of a completely treatable, preventable illness…The anti-vaccine movement has brought on new outbreaks of measles and whooping cough.  Someone like Mimi would very likely not have health insurance.  She probably doesn’t have the cash to pay out of pocket to see a doctor.

4) In general, how do you think women are portrayed in opera?

I think in a lot of the standard (western European 18th and 19th century) repertoire, female characters are voiced with very little agency.  However, sometimes the plots leave enough space for interpretation that certain actions can be attributed to the female characters, even if that is not stated explicitly in the libretto.  It’s the “cracks” that interest me.  Whose idea was this, really?  Much more often than the words say, it’s the female character’s.  In Tabarro, did Luigi really go made with jealousy and kill Giorgetta’s abusive husband, leaving her destitute, or did Giorgetta need a way out so she found a man she would be able to convince to kill him?
Photo Credit: CoCo Boardman

5) How does this opera allow you to dismantle the traditional tropes of female characters in opera?

Doing this opera with an all female cast asks audiences to examine the privileges they give to and excuses they make for certain behaviors when they are coming from someone male, and examine how different these seem words seem coming out of a woman’s mouth.  When Rodolfo first meets Mimi, she is proactive in getting to know him, but almost immediately he repeatedly pressures her to “stay in” because it’s “so cold outside” after having already tried and been turned down for a kiss. She convinces him to go out instead by promising that she’ll keep her body very close to his. He finally agrees and then asks “But what happens when we got back?”  This exchange is usually presented as rakish or charming when a male singer is doing it.   I think hearing a woman sing those words, without our built-in cultural schema of excuses for them, that behavior is exposed as disrespect for consent.

6) What is your next project?

I have a few things I’m singing in Germany next season that I like a lot: Santuzza and Carmen (another pair of proactive women.) But what I’m really excited about is a project that’s just in its infancy.  I’m developing a pastiche opera with Grand Harmonie, a Boston-based period instrument ensemble with whom I staged a gulf-war era Fidelio last season.  We’ll be assembling operatic excerpts for which there are arrangements for wind octet, and creating a sort of installation of an opera, for an immersive experience, like being in a cabaret.  I like doing work where the research, the conceptual construction is at the center of it.

                    

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