Story by Sandra Williams-Hervé
TORONTO, ONTARIO — According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “bohemian” refers to a person, usually a writer or an artist, living an unconventional life, usually in a colony with others. French novelist Henri Murger may have coined the term in the 1840s, but it was Italian composer Giacomo Puccini who helped to wildly popularize its lifestyle when he composed the opera La Bohème. Even after 117 years, La Bohème maintains its place on the modern-pop culture mantel. Think Jonathan Larson’s Rent, Moonstruck and even The Simpsons.
That’s why the selection of La Bohème as the Canadian Opera Company’s season-opener must’ve been a no-brainer. After all, it is a proven perennial favourite that is guaranteed to pack the house.
Within the first act of the performance, the audience is introduced to the ailing Mimi, (played by Grazia Doronzio). It’s too easy to quickly dismiss the first encounter between her and Rodolfo (Dimiti Pittas) as a blatant foreshadowing of events, when Mimi tumbles to the ground and apologizes for her “silly” behaviour as sheer melodrama. Perhaps if she made it less obvious and had just a droplet of the strength of her female counterpart, Musetta (Joyce El-Khoury), one would not feel the slight tinge of disappointment.
Nevertheless, the immense singing talents of both women are on full display in the two-hour opera. El-Khoury is a force, not only because of the beautiful timbre of her vocals but also because of her stunning comedic chops, especially when she accuses the eternal bachelor Marcello (Josh Hopkins) of acquiring the unattractive neediness of a husband.
Hopkins, a baritone, gives a perfect performance. He finds all the colours of Marcello’s preoccupation with his craft. And the heart-wrenching duet between Rodolfo and Mimi will have audiences feeling empathetic towards the lovers’ turmoil on the cold Christmas Eve.
Opera Production is Not All Doom and Gloom
Fortunately, La Bohème isn’t weighted down with melancholy. The market scene, in particular, introduces the audience to the toy salesman, Parpignol, and provides a delightful opportunity to experience the joyous children’s chorus.
The co-production between the Canadian Opera Company, Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco opera companies had a makeover under the direction of John Caird. Both he and costume designer David Farley were inspired by La Belle Époque and, in particular, Toulouse Lautrec. The end result is an optimistic artistic brilliance set against a tragic backdrop of love found and love lost.
There’s not much here that is lacking, but I do question Marcello’s frenzied sketching of Mimi just moments after her death. We know he is a dedicated artist, however, the poor girl just died.
Lastly, all the magic of an opera would not be possible without a strong orchestra. Under conductor Carlo Rizzo’s watch, the musical score of La Bohème is tremendously beautiful. Even staunch opera purists couldn’t find fault with the mastery of Rizzo’s orchestra.
More About La Bohème
Location: Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West (at University Avenue)
Dates: La Bohème is playing until October 30, 2013
Canadian Opera Company website: www.coc.ca
Tickets: Prices range from $22-$325 for adults. Visit the COC box office website for details and to purchase tickets.
Telephone: 1-416-363-8231 or 1-800-250-4653 (toll free)
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