Katie Van Kooten: Mimi in La boheme Gives Her the Chance to Make "Pretty Sounds" Before She Dies

Katie Van Kooten loves opera and Puccini and her role as Mimi in Houston Grand Opera's production of La bohème. Saying it is some of the most beautiful music ever, she readily acknowledges that her death scene is challenging both for her as a singer and for the audience.

"I sing a lot of roles where I die. Mimi is difficult in that you have to find a production vocally to communicate her extreme fatigue and the fierceness of the progression of her disease. But you also have this music which is so contrary physically to what she would be able to do realistically. That is one of the kind of difficult things about opera. You do have to kind of suspend belief and the audience participates with you in that. They understand yes, I'm dying of tuberculosis, however, I have some music to sing."

Puccini's groundbreaking tale of working-class friends and doomed romance in Paris -- La bohème -- opens the Houston Grand Opera 2012-13 season. (And yes, La bohème, many years later, became the basis for the musical RENT.)

Van Kooten, who recently sang the Elizabeth I role to great acclaim in HGO's production of Mary Stuart, said she welcomes returning to the role of the seamstress, revisiting it eight years after she first tackled it in a production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. She says her voice has grown and changed since then and she expects to do an even better job this time around.

"I absolutely do love singing this role. I think it has some of the most beautiful sounds I ever get to make. I do get to actually indulge myself and make pretty noises," she said.

John Caird, celebrated for his work with theater and musical theater productions such as Les Misérables and Hamlet, will direct.

"John Caird, our director, has been brilliant. He's just so sweet and funny. He is approaching it from such a fresh place. He has forced all of us to say why did she do that, why does he say that here," Van Kooten said.

And look for the set design by Olivier award winner David Farley; he's filled the stage with canvases of street scenes.

Van Kooten, who has done quite a bit of work in Europe, said that while she loves performing in places like Frankfurt and London, she appreciates the considerably longer rehearsal time she gets with an HGO production. "In Europe you might have four days to put it up. This is like a vacation."

Van Kooten said she has relatives coming to this production who've never seen opera before, let alone her performing. She said La bohème is perfect for an introduction to the art form with its great story and music.

"Puccini is a master of emotion. This opera is beautiful and funny and soul-inspiring, all the things that make great art," she said.

La bohème runs October 19 through 21 at the Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue. Performances are scheduled at 7 p.m. October 19, 7:30 p.m. October 27 and 30, November 2 and 10, 2 p.m. October 21, November 4 and 10. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit the opera's Web site $15-$325.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing