Arias and IPAs: Santa Cruz Opera Project brings ‘La Bohème’ to an unusual stage

Three sold-out shows beginning Wednesday at Woodhouse Blending and Brewing underline the thirst for what Santa Cruz Opera Project is doing, in this case a production of Puccini’s “La Bohème.”

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Wait … opera? Like Italian opera, in a brewpub? In Santa Cruz?

I kid you not.

For three days in June, Woodhouse Blending and Brewing in Santa Cruz is hosting a new production of Puccini’s “La Bohème.” April Fools’ Day was two months ago, so you know it’s true.

Of course, this is not news to many in town, given that all three performances (two full performances and a preview performance) are already sold out. This, um, unusual undertaking is the brainchild of Santa Cruz Opera Project, a core group of performers led by vocalists Lori Schulman and Jordan Best.

“My colleagues and I had this idea a few years ago,” said group co-founder Schulman, whom you might have seen last summer as the lead female role in the musical “Candide.”

“One of the things that we really wanted to do was to change venues, have it be a more casual setting,” she said. In that spirit, she and her fellow performers put together a small-scale performance of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Santa Cruz Elks Lodge.

“It was so well received there,” she said. “People were just in the middle of the action, and they loved it.”

That experience sparked an effort to find unconventional venues to stage more-or-less traditional opera (minus the foofy costuming). “We want this to be an experience for an audience where they can relax and have a drink and be right there with us,” said Schulman.


Of “La Bohème,” the famous opera set among starving artists in Paris in the 1830s, Schulman said, “it’s relevant always.” “La Bohème” is traditionally cast with eight men and two women. But with the company’s gender-blind casting, “it gave us the opportunity to use all these incredible local artists, and tell the story through a different perspective.”

“La Bohème” comes to Woodhouse on Wednesday, Thursday and next Sunday (June 7, 8 and 11). The already sold-out show means, said Schulman, more opera in unusual venues: “My partners and I are thinking about what we can do next season. We have some ideas as soon as we can.”


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