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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | COC's La Bohème Never Lets You Down

By Arthur Kaptainis on April 18, 2019

Canadian Opera Company’s revamped 2013 production of La Bohème comes equipped with an unfettered concept, fine singing, and a committed cast.

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La Bohème, 2019. (Photo: Michael Cooper)
A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La Bohème, 2019. (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Somewhere, sometime, La Bohème might have failed. But not Wednesday night in the Four Seasons Centre, where the Canadian Opera Company revived a 2013 production that comes equipped with a concept but is not burdened with enough directorial baggage to compromise the good singing and committed acting of a well-chosen cast.

Sets by David Farley represent not Paris but the painter Marcello’s evocation of the city. An array of his patchy and mediocre canvases become, rather messily, the flats and backdrops of the show. The idea, I think, is to stress the artificiality of the operatic experience. Verismo be damned.

Well, be thankful for small mercies: The scenes were still recognizably those the opera we travelled downtown to see. And revival director Katherine Carter has moderated some of the excesses that marred the original outing overseen by John Caird. Stagehands now go about their business quickly so as to avoid intrusive applause. Alas, Rodolfo the poet still rushes to his desk to scribble down some of the better lines uttered by Mimì in her Act 1 aria — a useless interruption of one of the most rapturous love scenes in music. Again, be grateful. The episode was brief.

(l-r) Lucas Meachem as Marcello, Angel Blue as Mimì (in background), and Atalla Ayan as Rodolfo in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La Bohème, 2019. (Photo: Michael Cooper)
(l-r) Lucas Meachem as Marcello, Angel Blue as Mimì (in the background), and Atalla Ayan as Rodolfo in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La Bohème, 2019. (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Singing was strong. Angel Blue, a fast-rising American, applied a radiant, finely regulated soprano to the role of the ailing seamstress Mimì. As is often the case, one had to reconcile reports of declining health with a manifestly lovely sonority. Happily, Blue was enough of an artist to downshift volume in Act 4 to make amends.

Atalla Ayan performed the opposite exercise as Rodolfo, pushing his lyric instrument into rougher territory to be heard in Act 1. Still, he was a good actor and his Act 3 duets were better adjusted to the contours of the house. It should be said that this Brazilian tenor was in the unenviable position of singing alongside the big-voiced (and big-boned) American baritone Lucas Meachem as Marcello. Canadian Andriana Chuchman was a bright-sounding and vivacious Musetta. American bass-baritone Brandon Cedel bade a handsome farewell to his overcoat while the Canadian baritone Phillip Addis successfully reprised his 2013 performance as Schaunard.

La Bohème, COC, 2019
Atalla Ayan as Rodolfo and Angel Blue as Mimì in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La Bohème, 2019. (Photo: Michael Cooper)

The gentlemen performed a delightful mock dance sequence in Act 4 before the fateful entry of Musetta and the mortally ill Mimì. All opera fans know with what masterful pathos Puccini brings this great work to an end. Neither Carter nor the cast failed him. Nor did Paolo Carignani at the helm of the COC Orchestra. At times I wondered if this Italian conductor could have eased up on the gas pedal and followed the contour of the phrasing with more romance. But fear not. I was reaching for my tissue in the final minutes.

Small roles were nicely handled and the choristers (including children) sang well. This was the first of 10 performances. Mostly new vocalists move in for three of the later dates. If I read my program correctly, there will be two shows on May 11 — afternoon and evening — with different casts. Quite an opportunity for a diehard Puccini fan. Not that there is any other kind.

La Bohème continues on April 26, 28, May 2, 4, 5, 6, 11 and 22. See here, for details.

LUDWIG VAN TORONTO

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Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis has been the classical music critic of the Montreal Gazette since 1986 and wrote for the National Post 2010-2016. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Ludwig Van. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.
Arthur Kaptainis
Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis has been the classical music critic of the Montreal Gazette since 1986 and wrote for the National Post 2010-2016. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Ludwig Van. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.
Arthur Kaptainis
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