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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 2, No. 10

A Grand Bohème

by Wah Keung Chan / July 1, 1997

Version française...

Puccini’s La Bohème is such a familiar and beloved masterpiece that opera companies and audiences often settle for productions that are merely adequate. All the more remarkable then, that L’Opéra de Québec’s recent La Bohème, seen on May 26, proved to be so interesting and memorable.

The primo roles were strongly and imaginatively cast. Quebec soprano Lyne Fortin’s performance as the consumptive heroine Mimì puts her on the short list as one of Canada’s leading singing actresses. Fortin’s Mimì is already a dying woman, racked by tubercular coughs, at the beginning of the first act. It wasn’t a pretty sound but it was realistic, and Fortin should be commended for never overacting. Her Act III and Act IV decline was gut-wrenching. Mimì’s slow wasting death can seem boring or even silly if the music is too slow or the soprano hams it up. Fortin’s interpretation of Mimì’s physical decline demonstrated that she had worked hard on the role since her Opéra de Montréal Mimì two years ago.

Chinese tenor Jianyi Zhang, who sang Rodolfo, is familiar to Montreal audiences from his performance in The Faust Legend at the Lanaudière Festival in July 1996, and as the Duke in the Opéra de Montréal’s Rigoletto in Februar, 1997. Rodolfo is a role ideally suited to Zhang's vocal and dramatic temperament. From his opening phrases Zhang’s voice was well placed and in top form. He tossed off his arias and duets with an ease and agility rarely found in tenors today, although his secure high C in "Che gelida manina" lacked finesse. There were moments (such as in the Act III duet) when his phrasing and timbre recalled the late great Jussi Bjoerling. At the curtain, the audience demonstrated their appreciation with a standing ovation.

Baritone Gaëtan Laperrière gave a convincing portrayal of the painter Marcello. Anne Saint-Denis sang his tempestuous lover Musetta in a beautiful clearly projected soprano voice. Baritone Nathaniel Watson’s Schaunard and bass Mikhail Svetlov Krutikov’s Colline were well acted but Krutikov’s bass was too gravelly for my liking.

Wolfram Skalicki’s compact realistic sets (rented from the Canadian Opera Company but built for a small hall) fit well into the Grand Théâtre’s Salle Louis Fréchette. The Act II Café Momus sets, built on a hill to resemble Paris’s Montmartre district, bore a coincidental resemblance to Quebec City’s old quarter. Brian Deedrick defty directed the playful Act I and IV ensembles in Rodolfo’s loft. Opéra de Québec artistic director Bernard Labadie drew a spirited yet sensitive reading of Puccini’s score from the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. Salle Louis Fréchette is a medium size theatre of 1878 seats, intimate enough that none of the drama, voices or music is lost as happens in larger houses. Good acoustics serve the Opéra de Québec well. This run of La Bohème was 95% pre-sold, so they added a fifth performance. Congratulations on a well-merited success.

Version française...

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