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Backstage at La Bohème

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Saturday, November 24, 2007, at 06:43PM

Profile under the stage

"Can you tell me which is the inn the painter works?” -La Bohème: Act 3

One painter was found working a different Downtown underground, below the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where you can get from stage right to stage left in hallways that run underneath the audience.

Earlier this week, cast and crew were handling last minute details during the technical rehearsal for the LA Opera’s La Bohème with the same brevity Giacomo Puccini used in his libretto about the hardships of artists in the Latin Quarter of 19th Century Paris.


The emerging painter backstage is Michael Gardner, the Assistant Head of Wardrobe for LA Opera, who was once a dancer before injury took him off the stage, but whose time is still marked by musical cues.

“The strongman tights are too pink,” he's told by the costume director sitting in the house, via a headset. He glances at the monitor that is showing the stage performance.


Nearby, sopranos can be heard warming up in dressing rooms and just off the hallway entrance to the stage, where some members of chorus gather in the stairwell before entering the stage as a crowd. “This is the best part,” says Michael while retrieving a heel that broke off an alto’s shoe, then adjusting a tie on a baritone. It's in this time when actors wait to go on that friendship are formed.

Michael's focus has also been on painting, as seen by work exhibited during the November Downtown Art Walk at the Spring Art Collective. Previously he has worked in costume design, with shows including fundraisers for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and a rock opera/ballet of Alice in Wonderland co-written with N.Y. Choreographer Jacob Brent. He has also worked with “Movin’ Out”, “I’m Still Here Dammit!”and “Annie” on Broadway.

A major force behind Downtown's revival as a cultural destination is the unseen artists. Often the scenes on Grand Avenue and in Gallery Row as perceived as separate, but Michael's work shows that the two are really just both parts of the arts center being created.

With a running time shorter than most operas, a storyline that inspired the musical “Rent,” the color and scope of the production, and a score you will find yourself familiar with, La Bohème is a way to introduce yourself––or revisit––a Downtown tradition. The LA Opera may be under the direction of Plácido Domingo, but we'll recognize an assist by Michael Gardner.

LA Opera's La Bohème opens Sunday, November 25 at 2pm. Lyrics are projected in English above the stage.

Complete slide show at Backstage at the LA Opera.


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