Playing with an international cast

South Routt residents join opera stars on stage in production of "La BohÃme"

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Emerald City Opera's performance of Giacomo Puccini's "La BohÃme" is headlined by opera singers from such illustrious international companies as the Metropolitan Opera, The Santa Fe Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Cairo Opera and New York Opera. It is complemented by a chorus of area singers and musicians who auditioned for their roles and have spent grueling weeks preparing for them.

Five South Routt residents are a part of the production, an experience that most of them have called "an opportunity of a lifetime." Four of the musicians in "La BohÃme," including music teacher Kelli Turnipseed, are from Soroco High School and Middle School. Turnipseed's three students in the opera's on-stage "banda," or band, include Patrick Williams, 15, of Phippsburg on the piccolo; Chelsea Bonfiglio, 15, of Oak Creek on the trumpet; and Nahila Bonfiglio, 13, of Oak Creek on the drum.

And making her presence known behind the scenes is stylist Courtney Cooper-Brown, 19, of Stagecoach. She is doing makeup, costumes and hair touch-ups backstage.

"The opera is great. I love having the kids there. It's just so wonderful they can be involved in this, because we don't get this very often in a small town," Turnipseed said.

Chelsea Bonfiglio said it was Turnipseed who encouraged her to audition for "La BohÃme."

"She encourages us to do something extracurricular," she said. "It's not really something high school students would think of as cool, but it is."

Chelsea Bonfiglio said she has enjoyed working closely with the musicians who comprise the orchestra, professionals that helped guide the young musicians when they were stumbling at first over entrances, exits and moving around while playing their instruments.

"It's been really cool to work with all these professional opera singers and the orchestra. I can learn so much from them," she said.

She and her sister, Nahila, said "La BohÃme" is their first opera experience. After weeks of rehearsals, sometimes twice a day, they said they have learned a lot.

"It's really awesome. It's great to hear the different people and the different styles," Nahila Bonfiglio said.

Turnipseed and her students are working with conductor Bernard Rubenstein, who conducted the Tulsa Philharmonic and dozens of other renowned orchestras around the world. When the banda leaves the stage at intermission, Turnipseed said she felt great pride to hear Rubenstein turn to her in the orchestra pit and compliment her on how well her students have done.

In the orchestra pit, "La BohÃme" has been a challenge as well, said Turnipseed who is playing the trombone. The score is notably difficult to play, and she said she had to work hard to get back into the performance mode of blending in with the orchestra. For her students, Turnipseed said the greatest challenge probably is playing their instruments while people are singing, a new set of sounds that can be difficult to get used to hearing.

Backstage, stylist Cooper-Brown said working on "La BohÃme" has convinced her to jump from "only singing in my bedroom" to pursuing a career as an opera singer and stylist in New York. It has been a tough commute from Lynx Pass to "La BohÃme" rehearsals in Steamboat Springs without a car, but Cooper-Brown said the exposure to the chaotic hustle and bustle of the opera has been worth it.

Getting to do hair and makeup for renowned opera singers is really exciting, Cooper-Brown said. She said she looks at her work on stage and says, "Who-hoo, you've been dubbed!"

"You have to be quick, like a Picasso painting, just whoosh it," Cooper-Brown said, noting she styles six or seven people in the hour before the performance starts. An added benefit to doing makeup for "La BohÃme" has been to make her fill her toolbox with the styling tools she thinks she'll need when she tries to break into the New York opera world, Cooper-Brown said.

Emerald City Opera presents its final performance of "La BohÃme" at 3 p.m. today at the Steamboat Springs High School auditorium. The opera is a tragic tale of passion, free-spirited lives and restlessness in Paris' Latin Quarter during the 1830s.

Five Soroco students applied for scholarships provided by Wells Fargo Bank to attend today's performance of "La BohÃme," Turnipseed said.

"La BohÃme" was first performed at the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, in 1896. The four act opera is based on Henri Mürger's "Scenes of the Life of a Bohemian." It is sung in Italian, but is translated into modern English prose that is projected directly above the stage.

Principal singers appearing in Emerald City Opera's production of "La BohÃme" include LeRoy Lehr and David Malis of the Metropolitan Opera, James Taylor from New York City Opera, Kara Shay Thompson of Chicago Opera Theater, Dominique Moralez of Florida Grand Opera, Ashraf Sewailam of Cairo Opera and Keri Rusthoi, founder of Emerald City Opera.

"I'd consider that a blessing coming here," Cooper-Brown said.

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