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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 3 November 2010

Opera Bouffe: Interview with Simon Fournier

by Wah Keung Chan / November 1, 2010

Flash version here.

When Simon Fournier joined Opéra bouffe du Québec as artistic director 10 years ago, he was just starting out as a conductor. Trained in harmony at the Montreal Conservatory and as a baritone at McGill, Fournier was self-taught as a conductor, having just founded the Chœur Radio Ville-Marie that specializes in sacred music.

However, Fournier brought to Opéra Bouffe a sense of professionalism that has transformed the 30-year-old organization into the leading operetta troupe in Quebec. Fournier hired a professional team of soloists, musicians and stage directors that has upped the quality of their productions. However, the heart of the production is the amateur singers that form the chorus and run the organization. "All the sets and costumes are built by the company according to the designs," said Fournier. "We have a team that has developed an expertise in making anything possible. For instance, our president Jacques Paquette is a genius in the workshop."

Operetta is a form of light opera, both in music and subject matter. Opéra Bouffe presents French and German operettas sung in French. “The Opéra de Montréal presents only one operetta in three or four years, so we feel we are filling a need,” said Fournier. The English equivalent would be Gilbert & Sullivan, which is beyond the troupe’s mandate.

Last year’s production of Franz Léhar’s The Merry Widow was a complete delight. Besides the high production values, the most striking part was the enthusiasm of the choristers.

“I joined Opéra Bouffe 11 years ago to sing. I stayed simply for the pleasure of learning to act and dance, but also because of the camaraderie and team spirit,” said mezzo Marie-Reine Corbeil. Soprano Suzanne Morcel needed to find a hobby different from her work as an Intensive Care Unit nurse, “I discovered a universe just as intense, but where singing, drama and laughter coincided with team spirit and a sense of accomplishment. By joining Opéra Bouffe, I offered myself, without knowing it, little moments of happiness on stage and in my personal life.”

That quality and enthusiasm have translated into box-office success, with each production (increased from four performances two years ago to six) to virtually full houses. The venue, Laval’s Maison des Arts, seems ideal. Fournier likes its orchestra pit; and the 315 seats make the experience truly intimate. Its proximity to metro Montmorency means that it can attract audiences from both Laval and Montreal.

Producing its annual show in November is a year-long affair. Choral rehearsals begin in January; that’s an ideal time for new members to join. During the summer, the troupe takes a break for some concerts of operetta excerpts. In September, the rehearsals resume with soloists first, and then staging begins. “The key to being a good conductor is to pull the maximum out of the choristers,” said Fournier. The conductor’s dream would be to conduct Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.

» Offenbach: La Vie Parisienne, Opéra bouffe du Québec, Nov. 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21. 514-903-1980, www.operabouffe.org

(c) La Scena Musicale