New LaBoheme Gets a Fresh Look, Chris Akerlind

Chris Akerlind Lightining Designer for LaBoheme.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,480)

“I’ve never worked at Merrill Auditorium before and it’s lovely,” said Chris Akerlind last Sunday afternoon at his home on Munjoy Hill.  Mr. Akerlind was speaking of the new production of LaBoheme that opens tomorrow evening at the Portland Auditorium on Myrtle Street.   Performances run through Sunday afternoon.

Mr. Akerlind is the lighting designer for the production and it’s not surprising that this is his first production at the Merrill.  He travels all over the world mounting operas and plays and is out of Portland between 9 and 9 l/2 months of the year. (So, it’s a real pleasure when he’s briefly home and as accessible as he is.)   Mr. Akerlind  has admitted in the past he’s a workaholic.  He gets depressed when he isn’t working.  In fact, he’s been nominated for five Tony awards and won one Tony for his lighting design for the Broadway hit –  “The Light in the Piazza.”

Last summer following the production of “Madam Butterfly”  by PORTopera, he suggested to Dona D. Vaughan, artistic director of  PORTopera that this year’s production of LaBoheme be done differently.  Rather than rent pre-existing sets, he wanted PORTopera to do something unique.  He suggested doing a “new production with new scenery.” There are people in Portland who can do this he told Vaughn.  The set and costume designer who came to mind was Judy Galen.  (The two graduated from Yale Drama School in 1989 and she is married to the talented Michael Trautman.)

Mr. Akerlind, who sits on the board of the St. Lawrence Arts Center on Munjoy Hill, said the well-known story of LaBoheme is about starving artists in 1830 in Paris and the women in their lives. The production  has been updated to take place in the late 19th century.  He has mounted the production probably three times in the past, but the two he could remember were in St. Louis and at the Boston Lyric Opera for which he is a frequent lighting designer.

“The possibility of being a starving artist  never concerned me, because what I did as a lighting designer was working.  I was fortunate to attend a good graduate school.  I’m not living the poverty stricken lives of the characters in LaBoheme.  They have great joy because they love what they do,” Mr. Akerlind said Sunday afternoon.

For two previous articles on Chris Akerlind, please see posts # 1,014, dated 4/5/12 and # 8ll, dated 6/19/11 herein.