By Tamara Vallejos
Baritone Andrew Garland makes his Opera Colorado as Schaunard in this production of La Bohème, but it’s far from his first go-around with this beloved Puccini opera. He’s been a part of dozens of performances, and says the music and the drama just never get old. Today we get to know Garland, who recently moved to the state to join the voice faculty at University of Colorado Boulder, and who will return to Opera Colorado to sing Abe in the January world premiere of Steal a Pencil for Me. As for La Bohème, however, you won’t want to miss his fantastic Schaunard—a portrayal both hilarious and heartfelt—so be sure to catch him and the rest of the cast at one of the three remaining performances on November 10, 12, and 15.
What’s your history with La Bohème? How many times have you done the show?
I’ve done it about 50 times, and I never get tired of it. There is something there that speaks to real human emotion. I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t been said before; I don’t know how else to say it except that every time the friends get together and amuse themselves and each other, I relate to that. When I was first doing it, it reminded me of my then-current situation. Now when I do it, it reminds me of my bohemian life when I was 23. Struggling artist? Exactly!
Now, we aren’t struggling artists anymore. But, in my recent memory, I was. So we all now have that shared experience. This music tells that story. There are other shows that have tried to tell that story, and I couldn’t tell you why it doesn’t work, but it doesn’t. I tire of those works after their first or second production. But over 50 performances of Bohème, I have yet to tire of it one bit. I still can’t wait to come in and sing that music.
Tell us about your character, Schaunard. What do you love about playing him?
What I love about Schaunard is that I can go out and just be myself as I’d want to be: the extrovert, the attention seeker. We’re all making art here, all the bohemians, but I’m the only one who is making money at it. I love playing Schaunard because he is a musician, and I was the band geek; I played all the instruments. And I get to come in and do a song and dance! I had one director who said, “Why are you being so showy? You should just be realistic. Understated.” That didn’t work. But I’m not running into that issue with [Opera Colorado stage director] Matthew Ozawa. In fact, Schaunard is actually a lot like Matthew. He’s always super excited, and has a great energy.
Speaking of energy, this entire cast of La Bohème seems to have a fantastic chemistry, and it really comes through in the performance! The emotions and interactions you all share feel very real and authentic.
We definitely blur the boundaries between onstage and offstage fun. But in the end, dramatically, it serves the production very well. Every time Mimi dies, it gets me. I’ll shed a real tear because the music is getting to me. I let it go under the radar, and I let myself react to it because that’s what needs to happen in the scene anyway. It’s a really easy acting moment for me. Play the music for me, and I’ll just cry.
What do you imagine happens to the characters in La Bohème after the curtain comes down? How do you think they handle Mimi’s death?
They all go out and get jobs, and they never again have such a cavalier attitude toward life and their responsibilities toward others. Maybe they will hold their loved ones close, and not just appreciate them, but take care of them—and not let them slip away so easily.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to opera to begin with?
The condensed version is, I played piano and other instruments in band. I was a band geek. Then the high school choir director tried to recruit me. I said I was absolutely not interested. But then he said, “Wait! One, you can play the piano for the chorus and get the class credit, and two, you can be in the class with this girl, this female chorister you’re interested in.” So I showed up the first day, and he said, “We aren’t using the piano,” and the girl wasn’t there. She was in the other section! He double-bamboozle-bait-and-switched me! But I don’t hold it against him because it took me about 30 seconds to realize that this was fun. I sat in the bass section and picked it up, like I had always been doing it. It was, by far, the most fun high school activity or class.
So, as you grew older, what drew you to opera, specifically? Why not any other kind of performance?
Because you can study classical music and get a degree. There you go! I had been a backup singer in a rock band in eighth grade, but that didn’t pan out. That was my one foray into commercial music. So, I don’t know if I could have been a commercial singer. This is working out for me now, so I’m trying to mix it up. I’ve done concert programs with a ton of Beatles songs, and I sang them in my mixed crossover style of singing. I once did a concert with Rufus Wainwright, and I sang backup for Barry Manilow once. It was one show at our university. He came to play the stadium at UMass Amherst. They put out a call, so I learned the three closing numbers. There is a picture of it somewhere. I still have my backstage pass.
This is your Opera Colorado debut, but you have some background with the company, don’t you?
I’ve known General Director Greg Carpenter since 2010, when he was judging a competition and awarded me first place. He must have remembered that when it came time to cast La Bohème. Also, I did audition for The Scarlet Letter, only to discover that the role was for a really old man. But that audition was worth doing because it was a chance to reconnect with Music Director Ari Pelto, whom I’d also worked with in 2014.