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‘La Bohème’: What to know about Utah Valley University’s opera show

The upcoming Utah Valley School’s opera show is a mix of ‘Rent,’ ‘Bridgerton’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’

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Marina Costa-Jackson and Isaac Hurtado posing together.

Marina Costa-Jackson and Isaac Hurtado posing together for “La Bohème.”

August Miller. UVU Marketing

La Bohème” is a story set in 1830s Paris where a poor poet and seamstress live in the Latin Quarter, an area rife with nightlife, restaurants and artists. They indulge themselves while they struggle to survive with their friends.

The characters in this opera “are struggling young artists who are trying to get their work produced and who are trying to meet the loves of their lives and sort of turning every impulse they have into the most romantic gesture that they can possibly come up with,” said director Matt August, who has directed Broadway shows like “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” as well as other regional and international shows.

Costa-Jackson describes “La Bohème” as an amalgamation of “Rent” meets “Moulin Rouge” meets Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” but August thinks of it more like a period piece version of the show “Friends” — except one where Phoebe dies in the end.

The Utah Valley University School of the Arts will perform this timeless story, an opera composed by Giacomo Puccini, from Jan. 20-24 in The Noorda Center, starring acclaimed soprano Marina Costa-Jackson and tenor Isaac Hurtado. Students will step into lead roles from Jan. 26-29.

Hurtado, assistant professor of voice and director of opera at the Utah Valley University, considers seeing his co-star, Costa-Jackson, a great opportunity itself. “She’s one of the stars of opera, and she’s right here,” he said.

“Then to have Matt directing it with his fresh take. He comes from outside of opera but from big-time directing in big places,” said Hurtado, adding that both those ingredients combined on stage have created something special.

A peek into the process

August had his work cut out for him with a score that was not only incredibly difficult to sing but also to play.

“With a score that’s this dense and a story that’s this dense,” he said. “Almost every moment has been a learning curve.”

But it taught him how much is possible with opera as the musicians created a “continually illuminating” experience throughout each rehearsal. Now that rehearsals have come to an end, August feels a degree of sadness. That’s the end of the time when he gets to sit in a room and get pummeled by beautiful music.

The leading stars, Costa-Jackson and Hurtado, will share the stage with students of the Utah Valley University who will sing smaller parts and choruses.

“It’s all in a language that (the students) don’t speak. And I’ve noticed a very high level of artistry and professionalism from them,” said Costa-Jackson, who is originally from Utah and has performed in dozens of countries around the world.

When talented artists like Costa-Jackson and Hurtado take their positions and start belting, it unlocks another level of permission for how committed the students are allowed to be, with their mind, body and soul, to their parts, August explained.

The stage, like the stars, has plenty of experience too. Estimated to be 20 years old, the stage was originally made for the Arizona Opera and used by opera houses in Utah, Memphis and Honolulu, making it a well-traveled set.

Are there other shows?

The Noorda will also be welcoming “Trey McLaughlin and The Sounds of Zamar” alongside on Jan. 22 for a night full of gospel, musical theatre and original compositions.

“The new year continues our strong return to live performance,” said Alex Malone, executive director of the Noorda. “January will feature one of the most engaging gospel groups in the country. With a full band and choir, Trey McLaughlin and the Sounds of Zamar are going to fill our concert hall with soul-stirring songs, from traditional gospel to pop hits and musical theatre.” 

As for COVID-19 precautions, masks will be encouraged and there will be a 6- to 8-foot gap between the stage and the audience. Additionally, the theatre’s ventilation systems have been upgraded.

Tickets for this weekend’s shows can be purchased at The Noorda’s website.