Why we love ‘La bohéme’: A Q&A with Annapolis Opera’s Maestro Craig Kier

The company's 50th anniversary season also includes 'Lost in the Stars and 'The Marriage of Figaro.'

Maestro Craig Kier, artistic and music director for Annapolis Opera, spoke with DC Theater Arts about the company’s 2022/23 season, which launches Friday, August 26, with Puccini’s classic La bohème. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Maestro Craig Kier. Photo courtesy of Annapolis Opera.

DCTA: Why do you think audiences love La bohème so much? 

Craig Kier: I think audiences love La bohème for many reasons! Puccini weaves together unforgettable melodies that stay with the audience long after they’ve departed the theater.  The story, while familiar to many, moves audiences no matter how many times they’ve experienced this opera. Whether you’re a first-time opera-goer, a seasoned aficionado, or someplace in between, this opera has something for everyone.

Do you have a favorite element?

My favorite element of this masterpiece is the brilliant orchestration that Puccini captures. He is a magnificent orchestrator, creating endless orchestral colors that breathe life into the piece at every turn. After having performed this piece for over 20 years, I’m especially moved by Act IV in this production for the beautifully honest storytelling we witness onstage with our singers and the orchestral playing of the Annapolis Symphony in the pit.

Having gone through this pandemic, is there any part of the opera that resonates with you differently now?

The pandemic has changed so much for the performing arts. We had no choice but to innovate in ways we never had before — no doubt a more positive outcome of the pandemic. But what remains so important as we commence in-person, live performances again is the connection to our audiences in these performances. The unique experience of every performance, with a new collection of audience members and a performance that will never be exactly the same again, makes every in-person encounter in the theater something we cherish now more than ever.

For this opera, what resonates with me even more now is how the love of all the arts (as displayed by our Bohemians), friendship in all its forms, and the loss of a loved one are universal experiences for all of us. This work vividly captures these themes in ways that impact me more than ever before.

Do you think parts of La bohème might resonate differently with audiences now? I’m thinking especially of Mimi’s consumption and death.

Absolutely. What’s always struck me about this opera is that it gives us a visual image of illness and death. We know that Mimi has an illness, but it’s only recently that we fully understand what that means. Most everyone in the last two years has been impacted in some way by the pandemic, so now, seeing someone young onstage who is dying from something that is now preventable, but which killed so many then, makes us more sympathetic to her.

Puccini wrote what is called verismo opera — real characters you can relate to. Mimi and the others aren’t fictional, they feel real onstage. It’s a vastly different experience from Wagner, whose Gotterdammerung had its Italian premiere a month before La bohème. One of the ways Puccini accomplishes this is by writing only enough music as was necessary. La bohème as we know it is in four acts, but Act II goes by in a flash, 18 minutes.

My hope is that audiences come away from this production with a stronger emotional response now than if they’ve seen the opera before.

The Annapolis Opera ‘La bohème’ cast.

Lost in the Stars, Kurt Weill’s adaptation of the novel Cry, the Beloved Country, sounds exciting. Are there any challenges in putting on a modern opera, or one that’s adapted from another medium?

I’m very excited to present Annapolis Opera’s first production by Kurt Weill this season, and Lost in the Stars is one of his most important works for the stage. The adaptation from Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country was created with Weill’s collaborator, Maxwell Anderson. Weill, like so many other composers (from Mozart to Verdi and Puccini to Missy Mazolli), created many of his works based on other mediums. We see many composers inspired by plays, novels, short stories, and even movies. What is unique to Weill is the freedom with which he created each of his works. He labeled every one of his works differently (Lost in the Stars is a “Musical Tragedy” whereas Street Scene is an “American Opera”). In Lost in the Stars, the words created by Anderson have a large amount of dialogue, which requires us to engage singers with even more compelling stage presence as they spend much of the evening alternating between speaking and singing. The music encompasses nearly every musical style present during its 1949 premiere — operatic arias, blues, folk music, pop tunes, and chorales. Weill wrote music — no matter what the subject — that was familiar to his audiences and most vividly captured the stories he felt urgently needed to be told. This piece, just 70 years young, is one of the most compelling theatrical experiences of which I’ve ever been part, and I can’t wait for our audience to experience it!

Do you see any common themes running through this season’s productions?

This season, our 50th Anniversary (!), is meant to celebrate the past and look to the future. We have a brand-new production of La bohème, sung by a cast of brilliant, young singers, all of whom are making their Annapolis Opera debut with this production and many of whom are making their role debuts with us. Lost in the Stars looks forward as we work to present new pieces to our audiences. I’m keen to introduce new pieces to our audiences, whether premieres of well-established works that have yet to appear at Annapolis Opera or lesser-known works that we believe are important stories to share with our audiences. And The Marriage of Figaro provides a familiar story that hasn’t been part of our season for 11 years!

How do you keep classic operas like La bohème and The Marriage of Figaro fresh and engaging?

We keep these classic operas fresh in a number of ways. I know that we’re performing for a wide array of audience members, some of whom have seen productions of these works in many places, and some of whom are experiencing them for the first time. Part of Annapolis Opera’s mission is to cultivate the next generation of singers. We often engage singers who are early in their careers and often making role debuts. Our audiences have enjoyed seeing the next generation of singers on our stages and then following them as their careers blossom. This aspect alone brings these more familiar operas to life in new, exciting ways.

We’ve also started creating new co-productions of some of these classic operas with other similar-sized opera companies around the country — we’re able to make long-term investments in productions, creating more robust scenic elements that will be used for years to come, making the visual aspect of the productions even more impressive.

And perhaps most important, our productions are always connecting to larger themes of our society. These themes are highlighted through our popular Insight Series talks (most of which are free!) and other offerings throughout the season that highlight why these stories matter.

If you could put on any opera, what would it be?

This is a tough question as I have so many operas that I love! I think for right now, with such a full season ahead of me, I’m grateful to be leading operas of such variety to share with our audiences.

What do you hope audiences will come away with from La bohème and this season?

I hope what we can do with this season is honor the audiences and supporters that have sustained Annapolis Opera for the last 50 years and inspire new audience members and supporters to join us as we embark on the next 50. Opera has something for everyone and I’m ready to ensure that we connect with members of all our communities. In the end, we’re here to tell compelling stories, and I hope that this season illustrates our commitment to do so now and well into the future!

La bohème plays Friday, August 26, and Sunday, August 28, 2022, presented by Annapolis Opera performing at Maryland Hall for the Performing Arts – 801 Chase Street, Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($28–$100 for Friday’s performance, $28–$85 for Sunday’s), call the box office at 410-280-5640 or purchase online.

Presented in Italian with English subtitles.

The program for La bohème is online here.

For information about Lost in the Stars (October 28 and 30, 2022), The Marriage of Figaro (March 17 and 19, 2023), and future Annapolis Opera special events, visit annapolisopera.org.

COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged for all performances but optional inside the building and theater.


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