Opera San José opens a production of La Bohème this Saturday that has been updated to just after the first World War, and it’s being stage directed by Michael Shell, who recently directed their Silent Night, which took place in the trenches and fighting of that same war. Shell describes the tale of love among young artists and poets living in poverty as “the quintessential Italian opera.”

There’s more information about the production, which runs through April 30th, at the Opera San José website.

Michael Shell is generally based on the East Coast, but he’s spent a lot of time in San José recently, with back-to-back productions. He stepped into the role of stage director for Bohème after some decisions about the opera had been made, including the move forward in time. “They wanted to update the time period to post-WWI. Sort of, I don’t want to say a sequel, but sort of a connector to the production of Silent Night that I did here.” Although costumes were modified for the later era, the sets didn’t need to be. He says that with such a familiar opera, it’s important to not to try to second guess audiences, but make sure to go back to basics. “The artists were making choices based on what they thought was going to be expected. And I said, ‘but that’s not important… What’s important is what did he write musically, Puccini, what did he write, what is the text saying, and what is going on in this moment between these two people?’ One of the great things about doing a piece like Silent Night, for example, when we did that. There were no expectations of the audience coming in. They didn’t know what to expect. And that was so liberating as an artist.”