Kathleen Clawson admits there are some operas she wouldn’t go out of her way to see again, but “La bohème” certainly isn’t one of them.

“It’s the first opera I had a record of when I was in seventh grade,” said the mezzo-soprano-turned-director. “I may not know where I parked my car, but I do know every word of ‘Bohème.’ ”

Utah Opera’s connection with the Puccini tearjerker goes back even further than the director’s: “La bohème” was the company’s inaugural production in 1978. “It’s a perfect place to begin a 40th-anniversary season,” artistic director Christopher McBeth said. The production — the seventh “Bohème” staged by Utah Opera — opens Saturday in the Capitol Theatre.

Clawson and conductor Robert Tweten agreed that “La bohème,” a slice-of-life look at the struggles and romances of starving artists in 19th-century Paris, makes a great introduction to opera.

“It’s an evening of glorious music with characters [the audience] can relate to, in a timeless story that is funny and sad and profound — pretty much everything theater should be,” Clawson said. Put aside your fears that “you’re not going to understand it, or it’s going to be too hard,” she advised. “There’s nothing hard about ‘Bohème.’ ”

“It’s not about kings and queens and mythical figures,” said Tweten, who also noted that unlike most of Mozart’s operas, no one ever trims anything from “La bohème.”

The story is a simple one — and will feel familiar to anyone who has seen “Rent,” Jonathan Larson’s 1996 hit musical loosely based on it. Mimì, a seamstress, falls in love with Rodolfo, a poet, and is accepted into his “family” of friends, who include the volatile couple Marcello and Musetta. The new relationship is tested by the young artists’ poverty and Mimì’s chronic illness. But Clawson believes “it’s not about sadness and loss; it’s really about love.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Director Kathleen Clawson, right, sets up scenes for set photos as Utah Opera's season opener, "La bohème," Puccini's popular tearjerker about starving artists in turn-of-the-century Paris, opens for five shows on Oct. 7, 2017. On set was Celena Shafer (Musetta), showing a little leg for fun.

“I love Mimì so much,” said soprano Jennifer Black, who will portray her in Utah Opera’s production. “She doesn’t have a lot, but she loves what she has. She’s actually pretty content when we meet her. … She’s simple, but she’s intelligent. She doesn’t have a lot of outward energy, but she has a lot of love, a lot of empathy.” Musetta is making a noisy scene at the artists’ favorite café when Mimì meets her, but Mimì instantly recognizes that her new friend is acting out from pain over her latest breakup with Marcello. “She’s always thinking about other people,” Black said. “She’s not complicated; she is who she is — just a good person.”

“Mimì comes in [to the garret where Rodolfo and Marcello live] because her candle is out, but she brings light to the lives of all the people in the cast that changes them forever,” Clawson said.

Scott Quinn, who plays Rodolfo, called the poet “just your average bohemian living in poverty, carefree, going as the wind blows — until he finds love, true love.” Perhaps Rodolfo could have coped better with Mimì’s illness, but that makes him all the more real to the singer. “I think about what his age is and what the setting is — he’s in his early 20s. Thinking back to when I found my first true love, a lot of the things that happen to him are so relatable.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Opera's season opener, "La bohème," Puccini's popular tearjerker about starving artists in turn-of-the-century Paris, opens for five shows on Oct. 7, 2017. On set were: Jennifer Black (Mimì“) and Scott Quinn (Rodolfo).

Quinn and Black share an unusual connection: Their principal voice teachers were father and daughter. The singers, both native Texans, believe this makes them a little more compatible vocally. Quinn also remembers hearing Black sing at a competition before either of them went pro. “I thought, ‘Oh, I hope I get to sing with her,’ ” he recalled.

Baritone Michael Adams, another Texan, will play Marcello; Utah-born soprano Celena Shafer is Musetta. The set, designed and built by Utah Opera for a company in Hawaii, will finally make its Capitol Theatre debut after traveling to opera stages all over the country.

Cold hands, warm hearts

Utah Opera opens its 40th-anniversary season with Puccini’s “La bohème.” The opera is sung in Italian, with Supertitles in English.

In a nutshell • Starving artists find love in 19th-century Paris

When • Opens Saturday, Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m.; continues Oct. 9, 11 and 13 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Oct. 15

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $21 to $103; utahopera.org

Running time • About 2 1/2 hours, including intermission

Learn more • Free lectures by principal coach Carol Anderson an hour before curtain and Q&A sessions led by artistic director Christopher McBeth after each performance, all in the Capitol Room on the theater’s west side