By Tamara Vallejos
The countdown is on!
La Bohème opens this weekend, and the cast and crew are putting the finishing touches on what is sure to be a gorgeous production of this beloved opera. Today we continue getting to know the artists of La Bohème, most of whom are making their Opera Colorado debuts in these roles. That includes our Rodolfo, tenor Dominick Chenes, who sat down with us to discuss the rehearsal process, how a pivotal teacher helped him discover a passion for opera, and more.
Not only are you new to Opera Colorado, but you’d also never before worked with anyone in this La Bohème cast. Now that we’re just a few days away from Opening Night, how do you see the chemistry between this group of artists?
It’s nice that everyone has done La Bohème before, so we’re all able to bring our ideas about the piece together and collaborate. Coming into rehearsals, we were all super prepared with our individual parts, so it was just about bringing them together and building those relationships, like mine with Mimi; and Marcello and Rodolfo as the best friends; and all the other guys. It’s been fun to see how these strong personalities can come together, Because, as artists, we all have very strong personalities—and sometimes it works and sometimes we have to look at it and see how we can make it flow differently. But this rehearsal process has been really nice.
We asked your Mimi in this production—Anya Matanovic—how she deals with the emotional ending of La Bohème. What about you? As a performer, do you ever get truly swept up in the heartbreak, in the way the audience does?
As an artist, you lend yourself to the music and the drama—and you do end up getting swept away. But you can’t let yourself get 100 percent swept up because it can just be too much. Not having lost a loved one to a disease like Rodolfo does in La Bohème, I can’t 100 percent imagine what it would be like, but even so: if I let myself go too far, it’s distracting. Well, I don’t know if “distracting” is the right word, but you’re not doing your job. Because you’re portraying this character who’s crying and sobbing, but if you go too far and let your emotions take over, then how do you come back? You can’t.
Sure. If you get truly choked up, like we do sitting in the seats, you just couldn’t sing anymore! Have you ever had a moment like that, where you went too far?
In a rehearsal, in a dress rehearsal. I was like, “Okay. Now I know exactly how far I can go.” Sometimes, in rehearsals, you have to push the boundary to then come back from it and say, “I cannot go this far in performance.”
This is obviously such an unfair question, but do you have a favorite part of La Bohème, either as a performer or as an audience member?
As a performer, my favorite part is the end of Act III, after Rodolfo has realized Mimi has been listening to him and they start talking about their relationship. It’s really beautiful because in that section, Puccini has them finish each other’s sentences. Mimi will start an idea and Rodolfo will finish it or repeat her last word and start singing with her. It’s really beautiful because that’s a real thing people do. You sit there on the same wavelength as your partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, whoever, and you just start picking up where the other left off. For me, it really shows that they truly had a real love for each other, even though she’s sick and dying and Rodolfo can’t handle the fact that he can’t help her.
Then you have the contrast of Marcello and Musetta screaming at each other. There is the beauty of us (Mimi and Rodolfo) and them (Marcello and Musetta) screaming at each other. Those are real situations that happen on a day-to-day basis. That’s my favorite part as a singer. As an audience member? Wow, I don’t know. There are so many. But, I think, seeing the development of Rodolfo’s and Marcello’s characters. best friends and they play off each other and have fun with each other. Their relationship is my favorite to watch, to see how they comfort each other in the scary, sad times and then joke with each other.
Now let’s take a step backwards. Can you tell us how you became a performer, and what drew you to opera?
Sure. I’ve always been involved with music. I played saxophone in the marching band in middle and high school. Then my senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to sing a pop song for a talent show. The choir director told me I had a beautiful voice and asked me why I didn’t sing. He invited me to sing with the choir and said, “It’s your senior year. You have nothing else to do.” So, I spent the next semester singing in the choir. He asked me if I wanted to learn an Italian art song to sing at our end of the year concert. I was so nervous, but he told me not to worry.
A month before the concert, he told me he had this friend who loved young voices and classical music, and wasn’t going to be able to attend the concert. He asked if I would sing for him privately. I said that it was a little weird, but okay. Turns out, it was actually an audition for a scholarship at the University of Las Vegas. The choir director didn’t tell me about it because he knew if I knew what it was, I wouldn’t have done it. So, after this little private concert, Dr. Alphonse Anderson, Coordinator of the Division of Vocal Studies at UNLV, offered me a full-ride scholarship for opera at UNLV. I was like, “What?” It didn’t make any sense because I wanted to be a pediatrician and I had my pre-med plans all mapped out. Dr. Anderson said, “If you give me one year of your time, I think you’ll change your mind.” So, I said okay. After a year, we had that conversation again and I said that I was staying. I loved it.