Vanessa Vasquez makes her professional debut as Mimi in Opera Philadelphia’s La Boheme

On Friday, April 26, Opera Philadelphia closes their 2018-2019 season with an artful production of the Puccini masterwork, La Boheme. For soprano Vanessa Vasquez, who makes her company debut as Mimi, it’s a dream come true.

“This is the city where I debuted the role at school at the Academy of Vocal Arts at 19th and Spruce five years ago,” Vasquez says. “It was my very first lead role in an opera and now it’s my professional debut at this company that I’ve always admired and dreamt singing with one day, so it’s really come full circle.”

Vasquez first saw La Boheme when she was performing in the chorus for the opera as a student at Catholic University.

“I was a freshman and I hadn’t decided if I wanted to do musical theatre or classical. I hadn’t declared a major yet — I knew I wanted to sing,” she says. “I was in the chorus for La Boheme and I remember being back in the wings and watching my colleagues sing Act IV, not knowing what they were saying but being completely moved by the music.”

With the help of her voice teacher, she eventually did decide on pursuing opera.

“My voice teacher told me I should consider it and I was like, ‘I know nothing about it,’” Vasquez says. “She was like, ‘I’ll teach you everything you need to know’ and started sending me videos of famous opera singers on YouTube. I learned little by little and I’m still learning.”

After graduating from Catholic University, Vasquez went on to UCLA for her masters and then was accepted into the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, an institution dedicated to advancing opera singers from all over the world.

“If you accepted into the program, it’s free tuition,” Vasquez explains. “And they take care of you for four years and invest $100,000 into your career. I feel an extra magic that I’m here in Philadelphia and those patrons that have invested in my career can come see me. It’s very special.”

Vasquez’s favorite aria to perform in La Boheme is Mimi’s response to Adolfo’s introduction in Act I.

“She tells him she’s a seamstress, who loves to make flowers and she loves the little things —love, dreams, poetry and springtime,” Vasquez says. “It’s a reminder of Mimi’s hope and really sums her up as a character. She’s dying of consumption but thinks if she can just make it through winter to spring, she’ll be ok.”

She also finds Davide Livermore’s production of La Boheme as “fascinating,” with its incorporation of famous impressionist paintings by Renoir, Van Gogh and more into the set.

“We’re constantly referring to the painting that inspired the creator of this production and how he relates artwork to the story of La Boheme,” Vasquez says. “It’s cool to see art through someone else’s eyes. And these famous pieces of art can be found right here in Philadelphia [at the Barnes and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art].”

When it comes to the source of her own inspiration, it all starts with family.

“My father’s family is from Colombia and my mother’s from Cuba. They came here hoping for a better life for their children and I thank them everyday for the opportunities given to me and my brother,” she says. “My parents are the most supportive parents in the world. They come to all of my shows and always believed in me. They’re always front and center, cheering me on. I do this for them.”

La Boheme runs from Friday, April 26 through Sunday, May 5 at the Academy of Music. Tickets range from $25 to $275. For more information, visit: operaphila.org.

 

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