History of BONJ

I Pagliacci is a colorful favorite in the opera repertoire.

BONJ’s colorful 2004 production of Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci”. Boheme Opera Chorus. Baritone Daniel Sutin as Tonio. Patriots Theater at The War Memorial. Photo by Edward Kedzierski.

Boheme Opera was conceived and founded in 1981 as a musicians’ guild in an unassuming parking lot of Trenton’s St. Joachim’s Church (today one of the two churches that comprises Our Lady of the Angels Parish, along with Immaculate Conception Church).  The Company’s evolution into a professional production company took place over the course of eight years, culminating in 1989 with its inaugural main stage season featuring fully staged productions of Verdi’s La Traviata and Puccini’s Tosca.

Early Years

Boheme Opera’s history began in the most unassuming of places: a simple church parking lot. The company took its first steps in 1982, seven years before it was officially launched, with an outdoor production of I Pagliacci. The formative years that followed saw small milestones that helped to set the stage for 1989, when Boheme Opera ushered in its inaugural season as a producer of opera theater with productions of Verdi’s La Traviata at Trenton Central High School and in Truman High School in Bristol, Pennsylvania.

Highlights of this era include:

1982: Outdoor production of I Pagliacci

1983-1985: Capital City Concert Series in the Mill Hill Playhouse

1983-1987: Festival appearances at the popular Feast of Lights in Chambersburg

1986-1987: Staged dinner opera at Roman Hall in Chambersburg in 1986 (Cavalleria Rusticana) and in 1987 (I Pagliacci)

1988: “An Evening at La Scala” gala concert at Bristol Riverside Theater

1989: Inaugural season as a producer of opera theater in the NJ-PA region;  first production of Verdi’s La Traviata was performed in both Trenton Central High School and in Truman High School in Bristol, PA.

Within its first five main stage seasons, Boheme Opera developed its repertoire and mission, offering growing audiences pre-curtain talks, projected English supertitles, original sets and costumes, casting of accomplished artists from the rosters of major U.S. companies and abroad, collaborative classic ballet sequences and open invited dress rehearsals. During this time, the company also established its model for educational outreach, including its High School Apprenticeship Program, backstage tours, a visiting opera program with local middle schools and college course presentations. During this period, the company established its new home at the Patriots Theater of the War Memorial in Trenton.

Maturing Years

In 1994, Boheme Opera temporarily moved its main stage to Villa Victoria Academy in Ewing, where the company spent five seasons while the War Memorial received a long-awaited facelift and restoration. The early months of 2000 marked the debut of the company’s premier educational initiative “Inside Opera”, a curriculum-based middle and high school program that would come to serve over 7,500 students in Mercer, Burlington and Monmouth Counties.

BONJ's production of "Aida" featured collaborations with Trenton Children's Chorus and American Repertory Ballet.

BONJ’s 2005 production of Verdi’s “Aida” featured members of Trenton Children’s Chorus. Center: Mezzo Grace Echauri as Amneris, Tenor Thomas Roche as Radames. Patriots Theater at The War Memorial. Photo by Edward Kedzierski

Today

In recent seasons, Boheme Opera has shown its stage versatility by presenting works that embody the spectacle of opera, but are not recognized as traditional opera:

  • The American opera Susannah, by Carlisle Floyd
  • Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (which received American Masterpiece Program funding from the National Endowment for the Arts)
  • The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan

West Side Story exemplified Boheme Opera’s goal of broadening its programming to cultivate a new generation of prospective opera goers. The Company gave a free daytime performance of the production to over 1,100 students from 17 schools and education groups in 5 different NJ counties & Bucks County, PA.

BONJ's 2008 production of Bernstein's "West Side Story".

In 2008, BONJ staged Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story”, collaborating with American Repertory Ballet’s former Artistic Director Graham Lustig. The Sharks and Jets featured a talented group of young performers from the New York/New Jersey region. Patriots Theater at The War Memorial. Photo by Edward Kedzierski.

 

While economic and entertainment trends are changing, the company is seeking avenues to attract younger and more diverse audiences. It recently facilitated an accredited college internship opportunity with Mercer County Community College for students pursuing careers in opera and theater, while continuing to offer professional experience to young choristers,  emerging artists, and professional designers and directors.

The College of New Jersey Center for the Arts

In 2011, Boheme Opera entered a new chapter in its history with debuts of two comic chamber operas by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi at its new home at The College of New Jersey Center for the Arts.  The Center for the Arts is comprised of a number of performance halls, including the intimate Don Evans Black Box Theater, The Mildred and Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall and the Kendall Hall Main Stage Theatre. The new relationship with the Center for the Arts is a natural fit for Boheme Opera, as both are focused on  bringing the arts home to New Jersey through programming and outreach.  It also serves as a triumphant return and reunion for co-founders Joseph and Sandra Pucciatti, both of whom were music program graduates of what was then Trenton State College.

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