Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Canadian Opera Company
Directed by John Caird
Cast (in order of appearance): Lucas Meachem, Atalla Ayan, Brandon Cedel, Phillip Addis, Donato Di Stefano, Angel Blue, Taras Chmil, Andriana Chuchman, Jas Vaculik, and Samuel Chan
Conductor: Paolo Carignani
With singers and artists from the COC Chorus and Orchestra.
First performed by COC in 2013
Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission.
Run dates: April 26, 28, May 2, 4, 5, 7, 11, and 22.
At the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
Reviewed by Aparna Halpé
April 19th, 2019
On opening night of the COC’s revival production of La Bohème, Paris was on all our minds. Notre Dame had nearly burned down, leaving a searing scar on the city that holds the vaunted position of being the cultural capital of Europe, for some. But Puccini’s La Bohème tells of a different Paris: a city of deep poverty and squalor, with the Quartier Latin overpopulated by starving students and artists, young people trying to make it from one day to the other. La Bohème is an opera about life in a ghetto, a theme picked up in Jonathan Larson’s later adaptation Rent (1996).
When I reviewed the COC’s premier of this production by John Caird in 2013, I called it a “thinking person’s production” because of the care with which Caird contextualized this canonical work within its time. The references to Toulouse Lautrec in set and lighting design, the theater and choreography, all capture that “drama with a distinctly French ingredient” that was the bohemian underworld of Paris during the Belle Epoque. Caird also rightly reminds us that this is a young person’s drama, a fact that somehow ignites in tonight’s production in the careful, but not slavish, revival of the production by Katherine M. Carter.
To review a past production is like visiting an old friend–there’s always a new story, always a surprising smile, and there’s always something rad and elegant about that old coat they’re wearing. The same is true about tonight’s production; it was luminous and radical, and this was in large part due to its exceptional cast.
As the tragic young seamstress, Angel Blue brought a sensitivity to her performance that I have never seen in a portrayal of Mimì. There was an earthy tenderness to her, and a tragic vulnerability born from a person who had a clear-eyed understanding of the impossibility of her circumstances. When you see Mimì as a woman of colour, the most marginalized of the marginal, her tragedy has a raw presence that lives as if for the first time. And, if you bring to this firm portrayal of character, an absolute powerhouse of a voice, you have a performance that is absolutely unforgettable. Atalla Ayan’s Rodolfo is a passionate young scamp, light-hearted and irreverent, and somewhat callous, until his heart is unsealed in Act 3, baring the anguish of a young man who must helplessly watch the love of his life die because he can provide no better circumstances for her. Ayan’s dramatic tenor deftly maneuvers these intricacies, bringing new vistas to arias that are so familiar.
Lucas Meachem’s Marcello and Andriana Chuchman’s Musetta were impossibly delightful, and able to shift from melodramatic banter to that quietly tragic power that carries Rodolfo and Mimì in Act 4. Likewise, Brandon Cedel and Phillip Addis, as Colline and Schaunard, delivered feisty, memorable performances full of operatic and dramatic intensity.
The COC orchestra seemed rejuvenated under the baton of guest conductor, Paolo Carignani. While there were occasional ensemble issues between the chorus and orchestra, most notably during the children’s raucous serenade of Parpignol, orchestra and soloists built to a fine climax in Act 4 leaving us all in tears, as we should be.
As I walk away from this opera about the tragedy of poverty and youth, my mind wanders to the Mimìs and Rodolfos of today, all the young people of our Trumpian world, all the dreamers and their dreams. What tragedies await them? What love or art will prove more powerful than the destruction of their world? I look forward to the opera that will tell that story.
- John Caird
- Henri Murger and Théodore Barriere
- Giacomo Puccini
- Cast (in order of appearance): Lucas Meachem, Atalla Ayan, Brandon Cedel, Phillip Addis, Donato Di Stefano, Angel Blue, Taras Chmil, Andriana Chuchman, Jas Vaculik, and Samuel Chan
- Until May 22
- 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission