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Comedy takes a turn in Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘Pagliacci’

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Comedy takes a turn in Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘Pagliacci’
Lauren Michelle at Boston Arts Academy. PHOTO: COURTESY BOSTON LYRIC OPERA

On Sept. 27, the DCR Steriti Memorial Rink in the North End will be transformed into an audience-immersive circus for the Boston Lyric Opera’s production of “Pagliacci,” which runs through Oct. 6. At the center of the action will be Lauren Michelle playing the female lead, Nedda. For Michelle, this performance is a homecoming. As a student at the Walnut Hill School and the New England Conservatory, Michelle dreamed of one day gracing the BLO stage. Now that dream has come true.

Lauren Michelle and Eliot School Students. PHOTO: COURTESY BOSTON LYRIC OPERALauren Michelle and Eliot School Students. PHOTO: COURTESY BOSTON LYRIC OPERA

Lauren Michelle and Eliot School Students. PHOTO: COURTESY BOSTON LYRIC OPERA

Since her days in Boston, Michelle has performed with opera companies across the globe and became a prizewinner in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. But this season she’s coming back to her roots. “As a young opera singer I was dreaming of singing with the city’s company,” says Michelle. “It’s so nice to be able to come back here and perform as a professional after all these years of practicing my craft.”

Michelle is seizing this opportunity to spread her knowledge and experience across the city. In conjunction with the production, she has toured several schools around Boston to perform for and chat with the students about opera. She had many opera singers of color to look up to as a student, she says, and now she gets to play that role for others.

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During one of her school visits Michelle found common ground with the students by comparing opera to the sports they love. “There’s parallels between the two — between practice and rehearsals, coaches and directors, plays and stage direction. So I had a good time explaining what opera was about and using it as a parallel to a sport,” she says. She also broke down misconceptions the students had about opera as a genre, such as the thought that all operas are performed in Italian or that they only appeal to an older generation.

“Pagliacci” follows a traveling theater troupe telling the tale of a wife who is cheating on her performer husband. When the head of the theater troupe realizes his partner is committing a parallel betrayal in real life, their comedic performance takes a dark turn. Michelle says, “This is the reason why opera is always relevant, because you have these classic stories that are really at the essence of being human.” This story, of love and jealously, remains ever resonant.

The story will be brought into the contemporary sphere with an installation-style performance BLO is known for. Though the development is still in progress, Michelle says audiences will be plunged into the circus from the moment they walk through the rink doors. “BLO has really gone out of their way to involve the community,” she says, “and I think that’s something really special for an opera house.”

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