In Elisa Sunshine’s own words, “I am totally new to Musetta, La Bohème, and being a part of an all-female cast; needless to say, I am very excited about this production, and really hope that all of the contemporary composers out there find a way to write more all-female operas! Help some sisters out!”
MWO: How do you see Musetta?
ELISA: Musetta is such a fascinating character. Traditionally, she is portrayed as the “sexy” female character in contrast to Mimi, which usually ends up being hollow and boring. Rather than a simple sexual object, I see her as a passionate, impulsive woman who knows exactly how to get what she wants. She is one of those people that acts first and thinks afterward, which is why her arc in the show is so interesting. By Act 4, she is a completely different person who has given herself permission to think about what she truly wants in life. Her observations of Mimi and Rodolfo’s love bring out the natural softness in her, which she fights against for most of Acts 2 and 3.
MWO: What’s fun? What’s challenging?
ELISA: Musetta is both terrifying and exhilarating for me! I totally relate to her impulsiveness (and for those who know me, her hippie vibes for this show in particular), but since she is a crazy pop star within this show’s context, her self-confidence and total command of her body are something that do not come naturally for me. Julia has been incredible in terms of making me feel safe and comfortable playing around with ideas, and her guidance and notes are something I will never forget. (For example, “it’s like she is so into her own energy that she has unicorns and rainbows shooting out of her vagina.”) Working with a female director on the various ways to bring a “sexy” character to life has been so refreshing, because it’s not just about touching yourself and fulfilling a man’s fantasy; the focus is on Musetta and how she feels, what she wants, and how she expresses herself. I definitely feel like I am walking away a more well-rounded performer, and have learned to give myself permission to be bold and unapologetic in my choices; thanks, Musetta and Julia! I also have to give a shout-out to Madonna and her music videos for all of the character study she provided.
MWO: How has it been to play opposite a female Marcello, and with all women in general?
ELISA: It’s been so amazing!! Rebecca and I go way back in terms of being cast as “lovers.” We just finished a run of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos as Zerbinetta and the Composer; you could say she’s my go-to mezzo! We were both psyched for this show in particular, because the relationship between our two characters is much more complicated and fiery. It’s been such a blast to collaborate with her and try out all of our ridiculous ideas on the stage; I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard while straddling someone under a table before! Working opposite another woman feels almost more intellectual, because rather than worrying about the physical implications of vigorous make-out sessions, we are so much more concerned with creating believable characters in the context of the show.
Working in a cast of all women has been such a breath of fresh air; I had some people warn me about “diva squabbles,” and I am happy to report that haters are gonna hate while the rest of us divas prove the stereotype wrong! The whole cast has been so supportive and inviting; the camaraderie between everyone feels so special, and makes our work onstage that much more real. The talent level of everyone in the cast has also blown me away; it’s really driven home the knowledge that there are so many talented women out in the business that cannot get work because of the shortage of female roles. While this production is special for its all-female cast, at the end of the day this is a story about humans doing their best to live their lives, and my hope is that the audience forgets about our gender reversals and becomes immersed in the unique story the production tells.
MWO: What’s your favorite moment in the opera?
ELISA: Oh boy…this is a tough one…the trio in Act 3 between Mimi, Rodolfo, and Marcello always grabs me, but I have to say that my favorite part is the very end of the opera. The silence before everything falls apart for Rodolfo makes the music that much more powerful. It takes my breath away every time!
MWO: Anything else you’d like to add?
ELISA: It’s also been really exciting to be a part of a production where every single person believes so whole-heartedly in what we are doing in terms of bringing current events into the show. Celebrating women during such—ah—turbulent political times has been incredibly empowering, and the passion everyone has brought to the production has really bonded us in an almost unexpected way. This is our own form of protest, and I could not be more excited to share Julia’s vision with Boston!