Story: ‘La Boheme’ becomes family affair for participants

JACI WEBB Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Friday, April 16, 2010 12:00 am
Nine-year-old Jacob Logan threw himself on the floor one night, thumping his fists in anger when his mom kissed another man.
Jacob wasn’t really upset that Jeff Kitto kissed his mom, Amy Logan, because even at 9, Jacob knew it was all acting. Amy says being around the high drama of opera for the last three years has rubbed off on Jacob, who is rehearsing for his third opera with Rimrock Opera Company, “La Boheme.” It opens next week at the Alberta Bair Theater.
“He got a big laugh, which is what he was going for,” said Amy, who plays Mimi in “La Boheme.”
His younger sister, 7-year-old Alyssa is also performing in “La Boheme” and their father Eric is building props.
Now in its 10th season, ROC has become a tradition for several families and a way for them to spend time together. Usually it starts when one family member dips a toe in, then another joins and pretty soon, the whole family is hooked. For the Logans, it was Amy, choir director at Skyview High School, who first got interested in opera, but it was as a clarinetist in the orchestra pit.
“I was always the clarinet player who also sang,” Amy said. “I never thought I had that much to offer vocally. I was sort of surprised.”
Coincidentally, the first time she sang in an opera was in the chorus of “La Boheme” in 2005. Now, she’s playing one of the leads in the Puccini opera.
“It’s a total body sport. It’s so powerful, you sing from your toes,” Amy said. “It absolutely fills you from the inside out.”
 For the Ryan family, it was Kate, now a senior at Senior High School, who lured her folks, Shelly and Mike, onto the stage. “La Boheme” is the first opera all three will perform in and it will likely be their last as a trio because Kate is moving to Missoula to attend the University of Montana in the fall. Kate moved to Billings after finishing the eighth grade in California and was a bit put off by the serious choral music she was singing in high school. But then she discovered Rimrock Opera Chorus for Kids.
“I love to see the eyebrows raise when I say I’m going to opera rehearsal,” said Kate, 17. Now Kate plans to minor in music.
In “La Boheme,” Kate plays three roles, including an ensemble number as a milk maid, her biggest role yet. Her parents each have about a half-hour on stage, but they’ve been working on that 30 minutes of music for almost half a year.
“Chris Sheppard created a CD for each of us enunciating all the Italian words. It sounds kind of goofy now, but it really helped in the beginning,” Mike Ryan said.
The opera will be sung in Italian with English supertitles projected above the stage. The Ryans have been attending operas for years and have seen productions in San Francisco, Sacramento and Denver. But they believe the ROC productions rank right up there with larger companies’ work because of the preparation and the guidance and commitment of general director Douglas Nagel.
“I appreciate things that are well done, and Billings operas are extremely well done,” Mike said. “We both come from blue-collar backgrounds — my dad’s a plumber — but our families all appreciate opera. I’d say, if you’ve never seen an opera before, this is the one to see. If you don’t like this one, well, you don’t like opera.”
The Bertin family, of Colstrip, was so excited to get involved in opera that they committed to driving over from Colstrip for weekday rehearsals starting in the middle of winter.
“The music is so exciting,” said Kate Bertin. “We’re tired and we’re driving and then we get there and say, ‘This is so amazing.’ ”
Like the Ryans, the Bertins got caught up in opera because of a son, Thain, who sang in “Carmen” and “The Barber of Seville.” Thain is now a student at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., and his schedule won’t allow him to perform in “La Boheme,” but his younger brother, 13-year-old Kian, was ready for his shot. So were Kate; her husband, Jim; and their German exchange student, Finn Carlson. At least a couple nights a week, the foursome packs into their passenger car and makes the almost-300-mile round trip from Colstrip to Billings to sing. There is also plenty of singing going on en route.
“It is a big time investment and it is a financial investment, driving back and forth with gas at $3 a gallon,” Kate Bertin said. “But it’s been a great experience. It’s so fun to be doing it together.”