Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: (Toronto) La Bohème

(photo by Michael Cooper)
Young Love
by Shannon Christy

Remember those days when you would walk in the rain just to see a glimpse of someone you loved.  The days before you became cynical and still thought that you could make a difference.  That your ideals could change the world and that your efforts would have a lasting impact.  Well regardless of whether you remember those days fondly or not, La Bohème is the opera for you.  It is even better if you can have those memories accompanied by some outstanding vocal performances and this production of La Bohème does just that. 

La Bohème is about six young people struggling to find their way in Paris.  The four men are honing their crafts as a painter, a poet, a philosopher, and a musician and they are flat broke.  The two women are a seamstress and a grisette and they seem better off as they have discovered the material advantages their bodies can provide.  However, the women are dissatisfied with the notion of trading material goods for men with hands as cold as ice and they attempt to have the best of both worlds by falling in love with two of the young men while accepting the material gifts of their older patrons.  There is a lightness about the opera, with the exception that one character suffers from a terminal illness, and even though tempers flair, insults are hurled, and anger boils over it seems light and ephemeral just like the loves of one’s youth. 

Rizzi’s seemingly conservative take made for a beautiful accompaniment to these tremendous and unique voices

This production is a traditional piece which recreates a late 19th century Paris.  Set and costume designer David Farley took his cues from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec images and does a decent job recreating Lautrec’s style with various abstract paintings combined to create a collage of the Parisian atmosphere.  There are nice touches such as snow flakes on a cold winter night or the smoke coming out of the wood burning stove but overall the set and costumes definitely felt like déjà vu, which was worrisome in anticipation for the rest of the opera

However, director John Caird puts enough imagination in the production to make you forget about the conservative set and costumes. All the characters onstage are well developed, and extras have been paid special attention to in the crowded scenes, where there is always something fun to notice in each and every corner if you feel like taking your eyes off beautiful Musetta (Joyce El-Khoury) for a second.
The action is sometimes timed to match the music and it feels like the orchestra is playing with the characters on the stage echoing the lightness of their young love. 

Conductor, Carlo Rizzi, has a similar interpretation of Puccini’s scores.  He keeps pace, does not let the tempo slow. In this case, though Rizzi’s seemingly conservative take made for a beautiful accompaniment to these tremendous and unique voices.  At some points, he is deliberately muting the orchestra so that they do not drown out these brilliant vocal performances.

Within five minutes into the opera, when Rodolfo (Dimitri Pittas) starts singing with his wonderful warm and clear tenor voice that reverberates and stirs you to attention all your fears for the quality of this production subside.  From that moment on the audience was hooked.  Marcello (Joshua Hopkins) is a pithy baritone with a deep range and is an excellent actor to boot.  Grazia Doronzio as Mimi has the most difficult vocal performances and pulled off each one perfectly dragging you into her tragic circumstances.  Her voice creates sounds that encompass and engulf you.  Finally there is Musetta (Joyce El-Khoury) she is a terrific actress as familiar with her body and the sexual desire it produces as she is with her voice that beckons you to listen and fantasize just enough not to make you creepy. 

Director John Caird succeeds in showing us that love is stronger than death and that beauty is fleeting.  If you want to see this flower of a show before it withers and dies you have until the 30th of this month to do so.

La Bohème runs to October 30

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