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'La boheme Has A Very Special Place In My Heart'- Acclaimed Director In Triangle

North Carolina Opera dress rehearsal.
Curtis Brown Photography

Crystal Manich is known for the magic she works with plywood, duct tape, stage levels, lights, and costumes. She's a theater director, with a passion for opera.

In opera, the stories are big, and the staging matters. One time she directed a production of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman." "It is an amazing and complicated opera to put together," she says. In one scene, the Dutchman is singing an aria while a ghost crew works on the ship.

  "Wagner calls for the Dutchman to descend his ship onto land, but in this production I wanted the Dutchman to trespass onto Daland’s vessel, thus helping to solve the issue of putting a large opera on a smaller stage."

Manich has come to the Triangle to direct a fully-staged production of "La boheme" for the North Carolina Opera. The show will open Friday.

The director will be returning to the story that made her fall in love with the form.

"La boheme" was the first opera Crystal Manich saw when she was 16. She says from that point on she was entranced with the fusion of drama with music in opera. Ten years later, she directed "La boheme" on the very stage in Pittsburgh where she first saw the performance:

"La boheme" has a very special place in my heart. I think the first time I heard it, what most captivated me, was the sweeping music, and of course the story. Puccini's music certainly grabbed me and I have always been a fan of Puccini's music.

"La boheme" premiered in 1896 in Turin, Italy. Since then it has been produced all over the world. It was the impetus behind the Broadway musical Rent. Even so, with a story that is well-known to many, Crystal Manich says that she tries to get her production team to approach it fresh each time:

A piece lives when you get a group of people together, like here at North Carolina Opera. And we all come into a room, most of us have never met each other before...and in the here and now, what does this place mean to us in this situation? I like to come in with a clean slate.

Manich is not only intrigued with the big stages - she's on a mission to bring opera outside the traditional opera house. She has a small company that produces 17th and 18th century works in intimate spaces, like casual bars in Manhattan. In an interview with the Boston Lyric Opera, she talks about how the art is changing with the times:

I think that opera is just like any kind of live performance: it is always morphing. That's what good art should do. When it stops being spontaneous, then it isn't art anymore. Why would we want to repeat the same staging techniques over and over again? Puccini (as just one example) wasn't afraid to change the form, so why should we be? ... These are stories about people just like us. I truly believe that if you present real human relationships onstage--all of the time--then it will always be relevant despite the "style" or time period in which it is set. It's only when there is dishonesty that it becomes a mere museum piece. An emperor is a human. A man who has had his heart broken is no stranger to us. The greed that is so prominent in Agrippin is recognizable in many aspects of society today.

Carol Jackson has been with WUNC since 2006. As Digital News Editor, she writes stories for, and helps reporters and hosts make digital versions of their radio stories. She is also responsible for sharing stories on social media. Previously, Carol spent eight years with WUNC's nationally syndicated show The Story with Dick Gordon, serving as Managing Editor and Interim Senior Producer.
Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
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