A youthful Vie d’artiste

Marianne Fiset plays the lovable, yet tragically-fated Mimi in La Bohème. Photo by Yves Renaud.

Capping off a season of hits and misses which included Verdi’s Rigoletto and Strauss’s Salomé, the Opéra de Montréal’s all-Canadian production of Puccini’s La Bohème rewards both regular and casual opera goers with its skillful blend of the tender and the comedic.
Produced by the star team of Alain Gauthier and Olivier Landreville – in charge of directing and sets, respectively – this production of La Bohème lends Puccini’s tragic tale of love and the bohemian vie d’artiste new freshness with a youthful cast and whimsical decor.
Landreville’s clever use of a glass-pane backdrop featuring a cut-out Paris skyline lends versatility and playful interest to the set, bathing the actors at times in watercolour tones, or coming alive in a backlight of amber to convey the bustling atmosphere of Café Momus.
A tragic tale of love between the poet Rodolfo and the sickly seamstress Mimi, La Bohème is supported at the Opéra de Montréal by the outstanding singing and acting of its fine cast. Showcasing the warm and expressive voice of tenor Antoine Bélanger, who plays Rodolfo, Act I’s “Che Gelida Manina” is the show-stopping aria of the production, initiating the audience into the tragedy and sweetness of La Bohème.
Marianne Fiset spoils the audience with her beautifully controlled soprano which conveys both fragility and playfulness in her character-defining “Mi Chiamano Mimi,” and is lovable as the tragically-fated Mimi. Bélanger seems to relax on scene after “Che Gelida Manina,” and believably portrays the loving yet fearful Rodolfo with skillful acting in the following scenes. The audience can expect to be rendered speechless and perhaps tearful by his final performance in Act IV.
Comprising as many as 35 extras on scene, Act II’s Momus is the visual highlight of the opera, and is a perfect backdrop for Lara Ciekiewicz’s sultry interpretation of the dramatic socialite Musetta in the playful “Quando m’en vo’.” Ciekiewicz’s rich and alluring voice is a delight, and her physical presence on stage as the blonde-haired, red-and-black-clad Musetta does justice to both the headstrong and empathetic elements of Musetta’s character. Her movements and acting in Act IV are beautifully fine and discreet; she is to be watched closely through the final-scene drama.
Etienne Dupuis showcases his baritone alongside Bélanger well enough in Act I, but Act II is where he comes alive as Marcello in earnest, playing the role of Musetta’s determined yet proud sometime-lover with a humour and skill which delighted the audience. The coupling of voices and roles in La Bohème truly justifies the viewer’s trip: Bélanger/Fist and Ciekiewicz/Dupuis could not have been cast better, and their credibility and skilfully-created emotional tension as stage couples sells La Bohème after the first few scenes.
Act III brings the drama to a head, as Mimi confides in Marcello of Rodolfo’s trepidation in the face of her illness with her mesmerizing rendition of “Donde Lieta Uscì”. A brilliant comedic dance number featuring Dupius, Bélanger, Pierre Rancourt (playing Schaunard) and Alexandre Sylvestre (playing Colline) delights the audience and lightens the mood before Act IV brings the story to its tragic conclusion. Sylvestre’s bass-baritone is at its best during Colline’s melancholy and noble “Vecchia Zimarra”; deep yet finely-controlled, his voice renders the aria one of the evening’s stand-outs. It is a shame that the libretto does not allow Sylvestre’s voice more exposure, as the audience is left wanting more.
La Bohème makes it evidently clear, from the moment the sickly Mimi and the charming Rodolfo meet in Act I, how its tragedy will unfold: the production, not the plot, captures the viewer’s attention, and the Opéra de Montréal is to be commended for offering such a formidable season-end treat.
A sumptuous décor which commands attention when need be, but also recedes to frame the singers’ intensity at the appropriate moments; a stand-out, impeccably-matched and wonderfully-cast group of singers; a variety of night- and matinee-showings: La Bohème is the perfect kick-off to Montreal’s summer music festival season, with the reminder that the opera is alive and well for young performers and young spectators alike.

La Bohème continues its run at the Opéra de Montréal until June 4.


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