UVU School of the Arts Students Learn the Business through Performing Puccini's 'La Bohème' with Opera Professionals

Utah Valley University (UVU) School of the Arts (SOA) students will perform and work with professionals in Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème as part of the Noorda Series.


Utah Valley University (UVU) School of the Arts (SOA) students will perform and work with professionals in Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème on Jan. 29, as part of The Noorda Series. 

La Bohème, the timeless tale of a love affair between a poor poet and seamstress, is being staged in the Smith Theatre. Acclaimed soprano Marina Costa-Jackson (Utah Opera, MET Opera) and tenor Isaac Hurtado (Utah Opera, Opera San Jose) star in the show directed by Matt August (Broadway’s The Grinch, Pioneer Theatre Company, Arizona Theatre Company).

UVU SOA students first participated in the ensemble and in technical aspects of the show, culminating in two performances that took place on January 20 and 22. Then in an engagement that runs on January 27 and 28, the Department of Music will present a student-only iteration of La Bohème. The Noorda Cast will be back on stage on Saturday, January 29.

“This engaged learning opportunity is so exciting because it combines the academic program of our department opera production this year with the Noorda Series, which allows our students to experience the opera on a much grander scale than we have ever been able to do before,” says Isaac Hurtado, Rodolfo in the Noorda Series production and Director of Opera and assistant professor of voice at UVU. 

“The set is an amazing, professional set brought in from another state,” Hurtado says. “Costumes are elevated. We have a full orchestra. And the students are able to work with an entirely professional cast and bounce ideas off of them and learn from them to put it all together. I feel like it’s a really rare opportunity for them, and they’re really excited about it.”

Matt August, director and UVU faculty member, says that throughout this process, students are not just gaining professional experience — they’re also learning the professional-level expectations for preparation. He says that when the audience comes, students will be recognized not as students but as seasoned opera singers.

“In every regard, this is, from soup to nuts, an engaged learning experience,” August says. “[Students] are working with a professional opera singer as their teacher, first of all, and they’re coming into a process where they’re working with a professional director. And they’re coming to the performances covering professional opera singers. And then they’re going to step into the roles themselves afterwards and make those performances their own.”

Student performer Joshua Scribner plays a main part in the student production but was recently asked to fill the same role in the Noorda Series show. For him, being a part of the production has been a wonderful collaboration with inspiring professionals to tell one of his favorite stories through music. 

“We as students get to participate actively in this production alongside these professionals,” Scribner says. “Not only are we watching and observing them, and how they do it, but we also get to do it alongside them. We get to participate. We get to play our characters together, act together, and we get offstage advice.”

Linnea Miner Mott, who plays Musetta in the student production, and Cristina Villalobos, who plays Mimi, both feel that they have learned valuable skills as participants in this production. Mott says, among other things, she’s learning character development and how to conserve her voice so she can be heard over an orchestra. Plus, she’s gaining more humility and patience in working with others. 

“Being in this production is literally a perfect example of engaged learning,” Mott says. “Having this opportunity to work with the professionals side by side, hear their voices, and learn from their choices that they make with these characters has been amazing.” 

Villalobos says she’s learned the importance of hard work, since countless hours of practice are paying off in her opportunity to play the challenging role of Mimi. The professionals in the cast have provided great examples of work ethic.

“Some of them have done these roles for years and have performed them everywhere,” Villalobos says. “Getting to do it with them and getting to ask them questions, getting to see them in work, seeing how they portray the role — and you know, we asked them a million questions, and them telling us about the business in general has probably been the most helpful thing in getting my degree so far.”

Maria Costa-Jackson, opera soprano star and Mimi in the Noorda Series version of La Bohème, has played the role of Mimi several times in various high-end productions, so she’s been happy to help Villalobos ease into the character of Mimi. 

“I would have loved to be able to pick the brain of a soprano who had done Mimi over six, seven productions,” Costa-Jackson says. “I think that there are so many soprano tricks of the trade that you can pass on. And just being able to witness somebody who's done it, a lot of times up close and personal, is a really big learning experience. And it's not because I'm the ultimate Mimi, but it's because as a singer, I know what it takes to get out there and do the role.”

According to August, the engaged learning opportunity through UVU’s production of La Bohème benefits the students as well as the community. He says that The Noorda is cracking open an avenue for cultural arts to continue to explode in Utah County, similar to when the Lincoln Center opened in New York City in the 1950s. 

“It's a venue where the community can come and see some of the best of the best around, and where we can mine out and find the things in the material that are gonna make the students soar and the faculty shine,” August says. “Guest artists come in and out through here that are some of the most exciting things touring the country right now. That's what I think that community should get excited about the most. This Noorda Center is just in the infancy of the Albion oak that it can become.”

To purchase tickets to La Bohème, click here. For more information about UVU’s School of the Arts, click here.