U-M prof wins SMTD award and produces shortened, virtual version of Giacomo Puccini’s opera "La bohème"


Original 1896 poster of La boheme by Adolfo Hohenstein

Original 1896 poster of La bohème by Adolfo Hohenstein.

There's no doubt the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance's Stephen Lusmann loves opera in its original, unadulterated form.

After all, he's a voice professor who has taught for nearly 20 years at SMTD.

But Lusmann is also cognizant of the time-crunched—and, now, the sequestered, pandemic'd world—we live in. Those are two of the reasons why he created a shortened version of Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La bohème, whose two-hour running time is cut in half.

Plus, the original has eight soloists whereas most young-artists programs only have four, and throwing a student singer—or even an audience member new to the genre—into a two- or three-hour opera performance might be overwhelming.

But the main reason why Lusmann made an abbreviated version of The Bohemians is that his SMTD colleagues gave him the 2020 Harold Haugh Award, which was founded in 1975 and named after the U-M professor and oratorio soloist. The honor is given to an SMTD professor to recognize his or her excellence in studio teaching. Recipients are awarded $5,000 and they're usually honored with a public event that includes a lecture and a performance. Lusmann had to make do with our current situation, so he and his SMTD students staged his version of The Bohemians sans audience and posted the performance to YouTube:

Maryanne Telese directs Jennifer Cresswell (Mimi), Levi Hamilin (Rodolfo), Jonathan Lasch (Marcello), and Caitlin Lynch (Musetta), with piano accompaniment by Jean Schneider in Lusmann's adaptation of Puccini’s tale of a love affair between two poor folks—a poet and a seamstress—in 19th-century Paris.

Chair of the Department of Voice Professor Scott Piper nominated Lusmann for the award and said this in the press release:

During his tenure at SMTD, Stephen Lusmann continues to distinguish himself as a masterful teacher and insightful pedagogue of vocal technique. Over the course of nearly 20 years of service in the applied teaching studio, Prof. Lusmann has produced impeccable results. His effective recruiting of graduate students, in particular, has served the Department of Voice well in opera performance and proven immensely beneficial to the balancing of voices required in campus choral ensembles. Upon leaving U-M, his students are routinely cast in productions at the local, national, and international level. Among graduates of his studio you will find finalists and winners of the most prestigious vocal competitions, including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition.

In the same release, Lusmann said:

I am enormously honored to be recognized by my colleagues for the 2020 Harold Haugh Award Studio teaching, particularly with students that have a desire to go on to professional performing careers is my passion.

My goal is to introduce new audiences to opera as well as provide young singers their first professional performing experiences. Through this process, I have discovered a new interest in creating more hour-long versions of popular operas in modern-day English translation. A warm-hearted thank you to all those that are responsible for this award and those that have made The Bohemians possible.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.