On April 29, the Jacksonville Symphony will present a new production of “La Bohème” with a cast of stars and rising stars. Courtney Lewis will direct the production, which will be semi-directed.
Lewis has been the orchestra’s musical director for six years and he recently announced an additional contract extension that will keep him as the organization’s artistic head through the 2023-24 season. He has also conducted the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Lewis has performed with the Atlanta Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Washington National Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Houston Symphony , the Rochester Philharmonic and the Louisiana Philharmonic, among others. .
OperaWire had the opportunity to speak with Lewis about upcoming performances and conducting Puccini’s most performed work.
OperaWire: Why was “La Bohème” the best choice after “Don Giovanni?”
Courtney Lewis: We wanted to bring another opera blockbuster to Jacksonville. “La Bohème” is, perhaps, the perfect opera dramatically and musically. Since Jacksonville doesn’t have an opera house, we thought this was an exciting way to build on the success of “Don Giovanni” a few years ago.
OW: Tell me about Puccini’s music and what you like to explore when conducting it?
CL: It’s wonderfully expressive and romantic music. We can feel the characters’ passions – their love, their jealousy, their hopes and dreams – vividly in the music. I want the public to share these experiences.
OW: How does it differ from his other works?
CL: It’s Puccini’s most brilliant opera in terms of form. There is barely a redundant note in the entire score. Everything is closely related to the service of the dramatic story.
OW: “La Bohème” is sometimes considered an easier work because it is played so often. What are the labor issues? What are some of your favorite moments in the job?
CL: Certainly, it often happens, but it’s not easy. You need fantastic singers, an orchestra and a conductor who all know Puccini’s style and can respond instantly to singers. What Puccini writes on the page is often quite different from what he meant, especially in terms of pacing. He assumed the performers were part of the great tradition of Italian opera and would know what he meant. So for an orchestra that usually only plays symphonic music, you have to find a very different style of playing.
OW: Tell me about the casting and how did you choose the singers for this production?
CL: It’s an international cast, and many members have sung in the greatest opera houses in the world. Almost all of them have played their respective roles several times in many houses. Gabriella Reyes, our Musetta, performed the role this season at the Met Opera in New York, staged by our director, Greg Keller! We are truly bringing world-class talent to this very special Jacksonville Symphony production.
OW: A symphony orchestra audience doesn’t always translate with an opera audience. Why do you think that “La Bohème” is the perfect work for an audience that is not an opera lover?
CL: It’s an opera you can’t resist. The story of love and loss is so powerful, and the music so immediately arresting and captivating, it’s hard not to be deeply moved. I know our audience in Jacksonville will love it, and we’re particularly excited about the setting from the late 1970s: the era of Andy Warhol and Studio 54. It promises to add a really exciting twist.