New Zealand singer set for La Boheme show

Vocalist and director Melanie Nicol couldn't wait to bring La Boheme to the city, nor could she wait to bring some of the opera talent Canada has to offer.

That talent would come to Prince George no other way, were it not for Fraser Lyric Opera, the performance society Nicol helped found in 2014.

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Opera was not completely unprecedented in this city, but it was certainly not a regular part of any other performance programming in the region.

Nicol changed that with productions of Béatrice & Bénédict, The Barber of Seville, a workshop appearance by international soprano Kathleen Morrison, and now the Puccini masterpiece La Boheme.

She is also bringing in professional singers from across Canada and blending them with highly curated local talent.

One of those incoming opera pros is baritone Bradley Christensen who has an active career in productions all across Canada, in the United States, and started in his home country of New Zealand (early childhood in Masterton, then Auckland before moving at 25 to Toronto for university). He started in the performing arts as a violinist but found a love for singing and gave it full commitment once he left high school, hooked on musicals and striving to develop the best organic instrument he could muster.

"I listen to pop, R&B, rock, all kinds of music in my spare time, but I feel the power of the voice and the power of the music behind those stories that is only really available in opera," he said. "Opera is the culmination of all the performing arts. You have the sets, the costumes, the makeup, the lighting, the musicians, the singers, all working together to create something unique and spontaneous as live performance is, and at the pinnacle of what the human voice can do. I have the desire to keep climbing that Everest to see how high I can go."

Christensen is part of the largest assembly of incoming professionals yet assembled by Fraser Lyric Opera. Nicol sought out eight from the nation's stable of established opera singers to lead the La Boheme charge. Also here from across the country are Vania Margani, Scott Rumble, Paul Winklemans, Ian Fundytus, Aria Umezawa, Grant Harville and Kim Bartczak.

Augmenting this pro core in name roles are local singers of high repute Paige Marriott, Barry Booth, Ronald Prochot, Nicol, and both an adult and children's chorus.

"You can't help but love what Melanie has created here, and it's an honour to be a part of a production like this that isn't just here to entertain, but it is also filling a role in the local culture. It is bringing opera to a higher place," said Christensen. "We would be in a much better situation, culturally, if everyone sang, learned to play music, and if politicians supported the arts."

Those from Prince George in the adult chorus include Catherine Cantin, Valerie Chatterson, Jennifer Foxcroft, Katherine Gordon, Aine Hogan, Maureen Hogan, Tashina Ketlo-Shaw, Erika Lacaille, Pat Preston, Lisa Price, John Smith, Tammy Stever, Marian Tamkin, Terri Walker, Todd Walker, and Brenna Jacobson. In even more formative in this production are children's chorus members Jessica Fowlie, Rachel Fowlie, Devon Wall, Ava Phair, Asha Phair, Eloise Hobbi and Lara Hobbi.

"It is probably the biggest cast we've ever had, and I am loving the chemistry developing, especially among the four male leads, the boys, they are just so funny," said Nicol. "I can't wait to show Prince George what local performers can do, when you put them alongside these fantastic singers from across Canada."

"It might not be mainstream, but opera is highly accessible," said Christensen, encouraging Prince George audiences to come out.

"We don't use microphones, we are not auto-tuned, nothing about the singers is synthesized. This is our raw voice, it's real, it comes out of our bodies and goes into the audience straight from the voice to the ear. That is a simple but unbelievable connection."

La Boheme is a story of friendship, of complicated romance, of the role the arts plays in our lives, how we people interact with each other and generate the big emotions like laughter and tears, joy and tragedy.

La Boheme will be performed at Theatre Northwest with shows on Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.). Tickets can be purchased online at the TNW website or at the Books & Company front desk.

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