A few years back I got to take a vacation in Aruba, thanks to a pretty cool pal of mine But I was oddly lacking excitement about the endeavour in the days leading up to the trip. See, I’d never been what you call a sun-worshipper…I was pale WAY before those TWILIGHT kids tried to make it all trendy…and I honestly didn’t get what all the fuss was about beach-vacation destinations. It sounded pretty boring to me, to be honest. But as life would have it, I was about five minutes off the plane and standing in the Aruban sun, when I IMMEDIATELY switched gears. In an instant, I ‘got’ what being a beach bum was all about. Just like that.
I had much the same experience when I attended Opera Lyra Ottawa‘s season premiere of LA BOHEME last night at the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall, with Fringe Goddess Catriona Leger along for the ride. I had never, ever been to the Opera before…the closest I’d come in the past was that Ride of the Valkyries episode of LOONEY TUNES. But it only took about one or two bars before I got right into the swing of things, and by the end of the first act I was pretty damn hungry for more. The show, by Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (or GADMSMP for short) tells a classic tale of love and loss in Moulin Rouge-era Paris. A gaggle of broke but lovable artists…Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline and Schaunard…are living the bohemian life, pursuing their dreams, and the odd free lunch. Things change when Rodolfo (Michael Fabiano), the poet of the group, meets beautiful neighbour Mimi (Joyce El-Khoury) and falls in love. Those of you familiar with the show’s modern day reinterpretation RENT already know the basic story.
Taking place in a gorgeous multifunctional set (inherited from a previous production in Montreal), BOHEME plays out in four acts. The liveliest of the bunch is without a doubt the second, when the gang invades happening local nightspot Momus. A spectacular crowd scene complete with children, waiters, seriously good-looking wardrobe, and the odd unicycling juggler is soon overshadowed by the scene-stealing entrance of Musetta (Laura Whalen), an operatic Mae West come to win her former beau Marcello (Joshua Hopkins) back with a pretty unabashed diva display of sex appeal that is pretty hard to argue with. Act Three moves to an outdoor setting, complete with a beautiful snowfall, where events start to take a turn towards a potentially tragic ending. And Act Four I still can’t talk abut without getting a little misty.
As I said, I’m no opera buff by a long shot, so I can’t specifically comment on the vocal performances from an enlightened point of view. All I can say is, if this isn’t amazing opera, then I’m not sure I could even HANDLE amazing opera. Fabiano and El-Khoury, who together form the heart of BOHEME, have magnetic chemistry together that’s downright impossible to resist, and voices that hit you in the heart like finely-tuned magic missiles. Their meeting scene, filled with laughs and heart, and some genuinely lovely dialogue (translation notwithstanding) is a wonder, as is the interplay between Rodolfo and the other members of his entourage. Schaubert (Peter McGillivray)is a lively force indeed on the stage, and the instantly memorable bass tones of Colline (Valerian Ruminski) won me over pretty good, especially his short but beautiful lament to a favoured old coat in the final act. No, seriously.
I can see now why people become such hardcore Opera afficionados…after the weak musical tea most of us listen to on the radio day after day, listening to pipes like these in action is a bloody revelation. As a friend of mine remarked when I told him I was heading out to this show, ‘You can’t fake Opera’, and that be the truth, yo. Artistic director Tyrone Paterson has good reason to be proud of this production, as does maestro Alexander Shelley and the whole gang. Catriona and me were both pretty much in tears by the end of it…which may explain why we ended up at the Carleton Tavern afterwards (by the way, Kitty Leger can TOTALLY drink me under the table, but that’s another story).
A final note before I head out…the show features one very handy feature, in the form of surtitles, projected out of the way overtop the stage, providing translations of the ‘dialogue’ being sung by the performers. It was a lifesaver, even if it can be a bit distracting dividing your attention like that (you get used to it). Heck, now that I’m familiar with the lines, I’d love to see it again, so I could focus exclusively on the performances. And just maybe I will. Peace, love and soul, opera fans,
The Visitor (and Winston)
PS: thanks to Sheilagh D’arcy McGee for inviting me to the show, and providing me with the awesome pix above, from photog Sam Garcia!