La Bohème is safe but sung with spirit at Canadian Opera Company
The Canadian Opera Company hasn’t messed with success in the revival of its traditional 2013 production of Giacomo Puccini’s , one of the most popular operas in the canon.
The opening performance on Wednesday night at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts showcased a wonderful singing cast with good chemistry led by Italian conductor Paolo Carignani, who knew how to wring every expressive drop from the juicy score.
The international cast includes several COC debuts. All did a fine job, but the leads were notably excellent finds.
American soprano Angel Blue was a treat as Mimi, a terminally ill flower embroiderer who falls for her neighbour in a Parisian garret. Blue has a dramatic voice ideally suited to a tragic operatic heroine. She wielded it with great finesse.
Brazilian Atalla Ayan does not have the largest voice ever heard singing Rodolfo, the bohemian playwright who catches Mimi’s eye, but it possesses a tone that is at once lustrous and dusky. He had the right, tightly coiled jealous energy to make the role come alive.
As for the other characters playing out their lives and loves onstage, American baritone Lucas Meachem, in his COC debut, was a characterful Marcello, a painter locked in a love-hate relationship with the courtesan-like Musetta. That role was spiritedly sung by Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman.
Members of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company and the COC Chorus rounded off the solid performances onstage.
Puccini’s music is ever shifting to suit the flight of emotions onstage. Carignani had a particular gift in bringing out all of the orchestral textures that underscore the story.
The plot is simple, drawing a neat arc from the buoyant energy of young creative types blowing off comradely steam, to us witnessing the fire of new love burn itself into doubt and jealousy. The ending may not be happy, but at least we get to confront it with some of the most beautiful music ever written for opera.
David Farley’s simple set, built around framed canvases, conveys the mood neatly, as do his raggedy costumes. Some of the wigs, however, looked a bit too distressed, and deserved to be thrown into the pot-bellied stove the bohemians vainly try to keep stoked.
This particular production takes no risks, but when the singing and music are so well executed we can simply bask in the glow of the fine result. One caveat, though: the run is double-cast, including a different conductor for the final performance, so the overall result could be very different, depending on the date.
Visit coc.ca for full details, including who sings which performance.
Classical music writer John Terauds is a freelance contributor for the Star, based in Toronto. He is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JohnTerauds>