Temple alumna’s opera company seeks to connect to the community through performance

Sage DiPalma hosted La Bohème, a story of a couple separated by illness on Feb. 16th.

(Left) Rodolfo, played by Cliff Bechtel, comforts Mimi, played by Emily Woodruff, during the performance of La Bohème at the Old Pine Presbyterian Church on Pine and 4th streets on Feb. 16. | LAWRENCE UKENYE / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Sage DiPalma wants to tell a story of the use of music to power through personal struggles. 

“In my struggles and the passion that comes from those struggles, that’s not only what drives the need for music but also it drives the creativity, the passion, and the vigor to create the music.”

DiPalma, a 2015 vocal performance alumna and founder of the PavarOpera Company, hosted La Bohème, a 19th-century opera originally composed by Giacomo Puccini, on Feb. 16 at the Old Pine Presbyterian Church on Pine and South fourth streets. It was PavarOpera’s first production.

The play is about Mimi and Rodolfo, a couple whose relationship is cut short after Mimi contracts tuberculosis and dies. 

(Left) Marcello, played by Ian Highcock, places his hand on Rodolfo, played by Cliff Bechtel, during the performance of La Bohème at the Old Pine Presbyterian Church on Pine and 4th streets on Feb. 16. | LAWRENCE UKENYE / THE TEMPLE NEWS

“What the story is about is holding your loved ones a little bit tighter because you don’t know what’ll happen tomorrow,” DiPalma said.

DiPalma started the company in 2019 because she wanted to harmonize her love of music with her desire to make the world a better place, according to the company’s mission statement. She studied abroad in France and in Italy with Maestro Valery Ryvkin, a Russian conductor, who taught her how to grow in opera. 

Her goal is to train young people who are reflective of the Philadelphia community through her company, by showcasing performances that are reflective of the stories within the communities they perform, DiPalma said.

“We’re just not bringing music and walking away, we’re connecting it with the stories we’re actually performing,” she said.

The company plans to introduce paid internships for young artists in the local area to get them involved with the fundamentals of opera performance and production.

“Our next generation of young people need to be exposed to classical music and if they’re not it’ll die,” DiPalma said. “We also want to create a space where we can share the opera won’t operatic music and connect it to their lives,” she said.

PavarOpera is donating twenty percent of its proceeds from La bohème’s ticket sales to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Tuberculosis Control Program, which funds the Lawrence F. Flick Memorial Center, Philadelphia’s only publicly funded TB Clinic.

After the performance, Chrysanthus Nnumolu M.D., a program administrator at the Tuberculosis Control Program, spoke about the issue within Philadelphia and how it connected with the performance.

“Although the disease is less common, it’s still a tough fight because of mutations which can make certain medicines not effective anymore,” he said. “We’ve made such huge strides that people with tuberculosis in Philadelphia, they don’t feel scared or fearing the stigma of seeking help with tuberculosis.” 

Rev. James Johnson, a minister at All Saints Church in Lancaster, was thrilled by the performance and the music.

“A lot of people will hear opera on records but it’s entirely different when it’s live,” he said. “It’s a different experience when you hear the human voice come at you unamplified.” 

Although PavarOpera is fairly new, DiPalma has plans for how she wants the company to go forward and what their mission will be.

“We want to empower communities with these stories and fully connect operatic music with the lives of regular people,” she said.

1 Comment

  1. So glad to see a place for the younger opera singers to participate in operas and also contribute to something greater than themselves. This is something that brings meaning to the artists and the audience.

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