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World-renowned opera troupe selects 30 SDSU students for historic performance

Students from SDSU’s School of Performing Arts rehearse for the Sept. 22 performance of “La Boheme” at the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center.
Students from SDSU’s School of Performing Arts are learning parts in Italian for the Sept. 22 performance of “La Boheme” at the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center.

The Friday, Sept. 22, presentation of Puccini’s “La Boheme” brings an internationally-recognized opera troupe to Brookings.

Designed to demystify the art form and present accomplished musicians both on stage and in the pit orchestra, the show will provide opportunities for 30 Jackrabbit students to perform in the world’s most frequently presented opera.

David Reynolds, director of the South Dakota State University School of Performing Arts, said opera is not new to the prairie and Midwest audiences.

“There are historic connections with opera and the migration to the great American West,” Reynolds said. “Most fledgling communities felt they were finally on the map when they were able to host their first opera. I am thrilled that the Oscar Larson Theatre is going to be a stop for Teatro Lirico D’Europa and that Brookings has the opportunity to see for itself what magic lies in store.”

Part of the Woodbine Productions performance series, “La Boheme” is the first opera to be presented in the 18 years of the program, but the story being told is surprisingly familiar to many who love theater and music.

“‘La Boheme’ is especially significant to contemporary musical theatre artists, as it is the basis for Jonathan Larson's widely influential and generation-defining musical, ‘Rent,’” SDSU theatre instructor Casey Paradies explained. “The fact that a professional company is visiting us is an enormous gift to our students’ creative education.”

When selecting this production for the season, it was especially attractive that the touring company, Teatro Lirico D’Europa, suggested that students from the School of Performing Arts be offered a unique opportunity to participate in the actual performance.

“The 30 singers will experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform ‘La Boheme’ with a professional company and orchestra,” Laura Diddle, the Moriarty Professor of Choral Activities and the faculty member coaching the student participants, said. “The students are currently enjoying learning their parts in Italian and interacting with each other as characters in the opera. Singing the entire Act II and the beginning of Act III in eight-part harmony in Italian is a challenge that these collegiate students are embracing without hesitation.”

A select group of SDSU’s finest vocal students have auditioned and will be included in the performance after completing a remarkable 16 hours of rehearsals.

“I've been in love with opera for the longest time,” said Charles Kriech, SDSU sophomore vocalist from Sioux Falls and Lincoln High School graduate. “Being a part of this production allows me to really engross myself in the art form. It feels like not only a fresh start musically, but an opportunity to take my art and my voice to an entirely new level. This is a gift that I will be eternally grateful for and an experience I will never forget!”

Teatro Lirico D’Europa is a world-class company, and its production features full costumes, sets and super titles projected above the stage in English to help interpret the Italian lyrics being sung from the stage. Corey Shelsta, SDSU professor of theatre, is integral to assisting the troupe with fitting the production into the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center and notes that having the show come to Brookings and the campus is extra special.

“I frequently take theatre students to New York, and we always try to see at least one opera,” Shelsta said. “Most students have never had the opportunity to see professional opera, especially at this scale, and they always come away from the performance having had a wonderful experience. Anyone can enjoy the spectacle of these performances. I am very excited to help bring ‘La Boheme’ to our stage at the Oscar.”

Tickets for the show have been selling quickly, and audience members are reminded that the 850-seat Oscar Larson Theatre has excellent viewing at all levels; even the back row of the balcony has exceptional seats.

Tickets for the single performance of “La Boheme” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, are available for $28-$49 and can be purchased online at the Woodbine Productions website or by calling 605-688-5188.