Rising Star Lauren Michelle Charms Audiences and Breaks Hearts In La bohème

By Rob Levy
In Culture

Lauren Michelle is on the make. In a decade that has seen the rise of a gifted new generation of opera singers establishing their presence, she is turning heads with her moxy, luminescent voice and a prolific body of work.

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Photo courtesy of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Michelle has received international acclaim by winning the 2015 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, the Lotte Lenya Competition and the 2014 Marcello Giordani International Vocal Competitions. She was also a prizewinner of Barcelona’s Francisco Viñas International Singing Competition as well as the Palm Spring Opera Guild and Gerda Lissner Foundation Vocal Competitions.

Last month she helped pay tribute to St. Louis’ Grace Bumbry with a performance at the 2016 Opera Theatre Gala.

In “La bohème,” she brings her incandescent presence to the role of Musetta, a singer whose high-maintenance relationships would be perfect fodder in the age of TMZ. But beneath her veneer lies a strong and independent woman who knows how to get what she wants. There is also a deeply caring side to Musetta who is integral in rallying her friends when necessary.

Debuting with Opera Theatre, Michelle discussed how her life as an artist has informed her views on connectivity and helped her develop the role of this flirtatious go-getter.

How have your own relationships influenced the portrayal of your character?
I think it’s mainly a human thing. I don’t think it is necessarily unique to me personally, but I know that I am one of those people that have just had that feeling of wanting someone, that mate, where you love them and then you hate them and then you love them and then you hate them. Everyone has that thing—that back and forth but it’s wildly passionate and strong. I think that has affected my role. I think of my own push and pull and you see what it means.

Whenever she is interacting with Marcello, it is the complete opposite of what it just was in the scene before. When you first see them, they are not together. Then you see them again and they’ve been together but they are breaking up again. By the end, you see them again and that puts everything in perspective. That underlying sense of ‘I’ve always loved you’ is still there.

Has this role affected how you think of your own relationships?
It makes me wonder—particularly the last act—if the middle part is even necessary? Not just in love relationships but in relationships in general as people.

I think there are a lot of similarities in the characters of Musetta and myself. I don’t mean the superficial ones like laughing all the time because I laugh all the time too. I don’t mean that. She definitely cares about the people around her even though they think that she’s not even paying attention. But she’s the one who is there. She is the one that stops the whole thing and says ‘guys Mimi is sick, you need to come now.’ She’s the queen of the party, but when stuff goes down, she is there.

There is also that base level of deciding how we get compassionate—the way the fourth act is and the way we end up all helping each other and gather together to help Mimi. What if everybody just started that way? What if we walked around life treating everyone as if it was their last moment?

 How important is it for you to connect with the audience?
It’s something that is extremely important to me. I can’t perform without a real connection with the people there. Otherwise there is no point in doing it. It’s more than selling the character: I want the audience to feel the character and feel that there is this energy that goes back and forth between us. That’s what I am trying to create.

Does ‘La bohème’ speak to you as an artist?
Yes. This production, because it is in English, has been really interesting because I’ve sung it before in Italian. I’ve had a similar experience with it in that it is very much like a play in that the dialogue goes back and forth and although Italian is a second language to me, it still, feels a little bit distant.

When I am singing it in English, it’s more immediate. It changes how you are, in the middle of the action, which is really cool to me, being able to experience the same role with this totally different immediacy.

“La bohème” runs through June 25 at the Loretto Hilton Center (130 Edgar Road) on the campus of Webster University.

For showtimes, tickets and more information visit opera-stl.org or call 314.961.0171.

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