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Puccini Goes Uptown

La Bohème takes the A train to Harlem in Ebony Opera's new production

For the men, Whitaker pulls together bowler hats, knickers, classic wool jackets, cuffed pants and textured socks. Both men and women sport stylish headgear of the period. "I'm going for a crisp look, not brand new but slightly worn, and very characteristic of Harlem's middle period," Whitaker said.

"Even if wealth wasn't present, people would have been proud of their looks. During the Harlem Renaissance, you would have seen well-dressed poor people. It's a very beautiful period. While the clothes may show signs of wear, the attitude will come through," Whitaker added.

Willie Anthony Waters, Connecticut Opera's general and artistic director, returns to Houston as HEOG's senior artistic advisor. He leads soprano Marsha Thompson in the role of Mimi, tenor Kenneth Gayle as Rodolfo, baritone Eli Villanueva as Marcello, and New York soprano Indira Mahajan as Musetta (in her Houston debut). Baritone Leon Turner plays Schaunard, and bass Louis Nabors will sing the role of Colline.

Good-bye tattered rags: Costume designer Toni Whitaker upgrades the wardrobes of Puccini's bohemians.
Toni Whitaker/Houston Ebony Opera Guild
Good-bye tattered rags: Costume designer Toni Whitaker upgrades the wardrobes of Puccini's bohemians.

Details

8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, August 24 and 25. Also at 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 29, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.
Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park

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According to Fauntleroy, Bohème's cast is younger and more physically appealing than opera audiences are used to seeing. "Our Mimi is sick, of course, but she's a young black woman living alone in New York, so there's a certain strength there. She's fighting being frail, without being demure," said Fauntleroy.

Interjecting real figures such as Josephine Baker into his Harlem Renaissance interpretation of Bohème, Fauntleroy hopes to revive the spirit of that period, while resuscitating the opera for a few diehard Puccini fans. It's a mix of European and African cultures that would make those old Harlem cabaret operators proud.

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