The role of a lifetime

Fishtown res­id­ent and sing­er Sarah Beck­ham will per­form in ‘La Bo­heme’ at the Prince Mu­sic Theat­er. It was the very op­era that in­spired her to start her per­form­ing ca­reer.

When Fishtown res­id­ent Sarah Beck­ham first saw a per­form­ance of Puccini’s clas­sic op­era La Bo­heme, she was a fresh­man at Baylor Uni­versity in Texas.

It was only the second op­era she’d ever seen.

“I loved it right away,” she re­called. “I re­mem­ber sit­ting there watch­ing the sing­ers and think­ing, ‘This is ex­actly what I want to do. I want to be up there singing.’”

And, that’s ex­actly what she’ll be do­ing this week­end when the Cen­ter City Op­era Theat­er presents La Bo­heme on the main stage of the Prince Mu­sic Theat­er.

The sop­rano will sing the lead­ing role of Mimi for two of the three per­form­ances: on Fri­day even­ing and Sunday af­ter­noon.

“It’s one of those roles that sop­ranos will die for,” said Beck­ham. “I wanted to do it so badly.”

The show fo­cuses on a group of young Bo­hemi­ans liv­ing in Par­is in the 1830s. One of them is Mimi, who be­comes ro­mantic­ally in­volved with Mar­cello, a paint­er. The oth­er pair of lov­ers are the poet Ro­dolfo and his old flame Musetta.

As the story un­folds, these re­la­tion­ships are strained be­cause of poverty, jeal­ousy and dis­ease.

The sing­ers in this fully staged pro­duc­tion are mem­bers of the Cen­ter City Op­era Theat­er’s (CCOT) Young Artists pro­gram, which pro­motes the ca­reer de­vel­op­ment of tal­en­ted young op­era stars.

Beck­ham star­ted pre­par­ing for her role well be­fore re­hears­als began.

She began by listen­ing to a CD with Itali­an sop­rano Mirelle Freni singing Mimi.

“She’s my ab­so­lute fa­vor­ite Mimi,” said Beck­ham. “The beauty of her voice is so ex­cit­ing…I listened not be­cause I was try­ing to im­it­ate her, ut be­cause she’s in­spir­ing.”

Study­ing a trans­la­tion of La Bo­heme from the ori­gin­al Itali­an in­to Eng­lish was an­oth­er early phase of her pre­par­a­tion.

The op­era will be sung in Itali­an with Eng­lish su­per­script.

“I make ure I have every word in the score trans­lated,” aid Beck­ham, who does that when pre­par­ing any role in a for­eign lan­guage.

She needs to know the mean­ing so she can act as well as sing.

Next, she star­ted prac­ti­cing her role, both on her own and with her coach and voice teach­er in New York.

Then, came four weeks of re­hears­als, six days a week.

In mas­ter­ing the role of Mimi dur­ing re­hears­als, one chal­lenge for Beck­ham was that the per­son­al­ity of Mimi is so dif­fer­ent from her own.

“She’s a very sweet, del­ic­ate, shy char­ac­ter and I’m ex­tremely out­go­ing,” she said. “So, I have to be much more shy and tim­id than I am nor­mally.”

As for singing in Itali­an, that comes eas­ily to Beck­ham.

Most op­er­as she’s sung have been in Itali­an, and she’s de­lighted with every op­por­tun­ity.

“I love singing in Itali­an,” she says. “It’s the purest lan­guage, only five vow­el sounds. It’s all very straight­for­ward and smooth.”

This is the second op­era she’s sung with Cen­ter City Op­era Theat­er this sea­son.

In Feb­ru­ary, she sang the role of Count­ess in Moz­art’s Mar­riage of Figaro.

She’s sung on oth­er stages this sea­son as well.

In Septem­ber, Beck­ham was far from home.

She was in Mo­scow to par­ti­cip­ate in the semi­finals of an in­ter­na­tion­al voice com­pet­i­tion. Though she did not win, she said it was an hon­or to be one of only five Amer­ic­ans chosen to par­ti­cip­ate.

Back in the United States, she sang with Op­era in the Heights, a Hou­s­ton com­pany. 

Soon after, she made her de­but with the Ashev­ille Lyr­ic Op­era in North Car­o­lina.

There will be no time to re­lax after her per­form­ance this Sunday af­ter­noon.

The very next day, Beck­ham tarts re­hears­als with the Lyr­ic Op­era of Vir­gin­ia, where she’ll sing the role of Mi­kaela in Car­men.

Then it’s back to Phil­adelphia for the fi­nal pro­duc­tion of the Cen­ter City Op­era Theat­er: the world premiere in June of Slay­ing the Dragon.

Beck­ham will take on two sep­ar­ate roles on dif­fer­ent per­form­ance days.

Im­me­di­ately after that, she starts re­hears­als with Op­era New Jer­sey, where she’s been cast as Josephine in HMS Pin­a­fore to be presen­ted in Ju­ly.

The Texas nat­ive doesn’t mind the hec­tic sched­ule — she’s do­ing what she’s wanted to do ever since she saw that first per­form­ance of La Bo­heme as a fresh­man at Baylor Uni­versity.

“Singing for an audi­ence is the best part. It makes all the pre­par­a­tion well worth it,” she said. ldquo;And I’m eagerly look­ing for­ward to singing the role I’ve al­ways wanted to sing.” ••

If you go …

The Cen­ter City Op­era Theat­er presents Puccini’s La Bo­heme Fri­day, Sat­urday and Sunday, at the Prince Mu­sic Theat­er, at 1412 Chest­nut St. Tick­et prices range from $39 to $79 and $10 stu­dent rush, and are avail­able on­line at www.Op­eraTheat­

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