When Peggy Kriha Dye seized the opportunity to reshape Columbus’s premier opera company as its Artistic Director, she not only brought a new artistic vision to the stage, but also sought to change its aging audience, keeping opera relevant and sustainable for Central Ohio audiences. Opera on the Edge, a shortened version of a major opera, fills that niche.
Staged at both Shadowbox Live and The Refectory Restaurant and Bistro, Opera on the Edge serves as a sort of “Sparknotes” version of a popular opera, allowing patrons to build their personal encyclopedia of opera arias, characters, and plots. This season will feature La Bohème, with an English libretto written by Joel Ivany and directed by Shadowbox Live founder Stev Guyer.
Giacomo Puccini’s tragic opera of love and loss finds itself set not in Paris, but the Capital City in 2016. Pairs of lovers—Mimi and Rodolfo, and Musetta and Marcello—wander the streets of Columbus in search of belonging and artistic fulfillment while navigating a world of poverty and illness. Sound a lot like the musical Rent? That’s because Boheme was the inspiration for much of the character development and plot of Jonathan Larson’s game-changing musical of a young community of people living with and dying of AIDS in the East Village of Manhattan. Rent became a clarion call for young people who found a musical sung in their voice, that dealt with their struggles, fears, and hopes, and put people like themselves on stage. Likewise, the Opera on the Edge version of Bohème attempts to connect a new audience to this genre of opera by emphasizing its contemporary relevance.
Accessibility – Opera on the Edge removes the barriers to opera with a $10 ticket price, a one-hour running length, and an English language rendition. For skeptics, newbies, and general cheapskates of all kinds, Opera on the Edge is, in the words of Kriha Dye, “…the perfect entry point into the opera.”
Intimacy – The performances are in a bar and bistro; add a highly romantic opera score to that setting and use your imagination.
Transformation – “Opera houses are fading and dying all across the U.S.,” Kriha Dye said. “The goal we have is how do we keep our audience engaged … and I find that through Opera on the Edge we’re able to break it down and build some intrigue in a very non-threatening way. So now I go to the main stage theater and see some of my Shadowbox audience coming in as my subscribers.”
Mimi – Broke and terminally ill, she’s the girl you know you shouldn’t get involved with, but can’t help falling for. Completely innocent, Mimi seems to draw out sympathy from those around her, unintentionally breaking hearts and wallets.
Rodolfo – A writer and wannabe poet. Rodolfo’s bad economic situation has forced him to take on any project that will make a quick buck, but it doesn’t stop him from dreaming big. (He’s currently working on an article to pitch to Playboy.) In terms of relationships, Rodolfo fears being alone, although as somewhat of a self-saboteur, he frequently finds himself in that position.
Musetta – Addicted to attention, Musetta can appear superficial and materialistic, but underneath the flippant surface is a pure heart and a fear of losing control. She puts some playful distance between herself and her partners, keeping the focus on herself.
Marcello – Naive and perhaps overly optimistic, Marcello is a painter who’s in an on-again, off-again relationship with Musetta. He’s currently painting houses with the hopes of saving up enough money to impress her and perhaps finally get her to settle down.
Is Opera on the Edge “real” opera? Does taking an opera out of its original setting and language push the boundaries too far?
“What’s dying is catering to a tradition only,” said Kriha Dye. “I’ve been singing opera for the last 25 years and I have a huge respect for it and lots of training in it. But as culture changes, so does your audience, hopefully. I think it’s not so much a selling out or diluting the art form, it’s simply growing with the culture I’m serving.”
So there you have it. At your next cocktail party when someone asks if you’ve seen La Bohème, take a sip of your old-fashioned, and reply contentedly, “Yes. Yes I have.” Because life is short; you should plan your opera accordingly.
Performances run through December 5, rotating between Shadowbox and The Refectory. For more details, visit operacolumbus.org/events/opera-on-the-edge.