They perform with an orchestra, without microphones, in multiple languages.
"Producing an opera is so difficult it is almost impossible," James Marvel said.
The University Of Tennessee Opera Theatre presents La Boheme this weekend after months of preparation.
"We devote an entire semester to it, five even six days a week in learning all of those notes, all of those rhythms, and of course learning all of that Italian and drilling it into the singers," Kevin Class said.
He is the UT Opera Theatre Musical Director
"I oversee all the musical preparation, conduct the orchestra, I'll be sort of driving the performance as it happens," he explained.
James Marvel is the UT Opera Theatre Director.
"I am also the stage director which means I am in charge of all of the action that you see on stage," he said.
Boris Van Druff is a graduate student.
"I will be performing the role of Rudolfo in La Boheme. He's one of the two lovers of the story," Boris Van Druff said. "It's a show that deals with complex relationships and love and loss."
"Frequently when people make lists of what are the most difficult professions brain surgeon is usually number one and opera singer is usually in the top five or ten," Marvel said. "The singers have to not only be extremely gifted musicians but they have to know Italian, French, German, even English. You know singing in English requires a level of diction that is very important as well."
The singers must protect their voices while projecting over an orchestra without microphones.
"You have to be very careful not to shout and over sing otherwise your career will be over like that," Van Druff said.
Earlier this week was a music rehearsal only. The orchestra and cast worked through the score. The behind the scenes efforts are elaborate.
"You have the makeup, the wigs, the costumes, the set. In this case we're doing a lot of video projection," Marvel said.
All the preparation carries over into the next production.
"The process is going to continue. And this particular opera, these notes, these words, are going to live with us and continue to grow and develop and the next time we come back to them it's going to be... this experience is going to serve us well," Class said.
Marvel said, "I feel like this production of La Boheme could be shown at Lincoln Center. I feel like it could be shown in London or Berlin. And here it is in Knoxville and it's a really awesome show."
"There will not be a dry eye in the place, I can guarantee you that," Van Druff said.
You can see the opera this Friday, Sunday, and Monday evenings at 8 o'clock with a matinee at 2:30 Sunday.
The performance will be at the University of Tennessee Carousel Theatre next to Clarence Brown.