Strong performances and profound emotion are packed into Canadian Opera Company’s La Boheme playing at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre
Crossing the lobby of the Four Seasons Centre after La Boheme, I saw a couple standing with their young daughter of eight or nine years old. I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to ask her: “Did you like it?” Her parents smiled tolerantly at me (I may not have been the first person to ask) as she nodded and said, reverently “I loved it.”
I did too. And, I would like to add, with a very similar child-like glee. It’s not that often that I attend something to review it and find myself just happy, with my review-brain noticeably silent for long minutes at a time while the lifetime lover of performance in me sighed with pleasure and reached for my sweetheart’s hand. This production of La Boheme made me so happy.
Boheme is a simple story – very simple. Not a great deal happens, but there’s a lot of emotion and proclamation while it does. As an opera plot, it frees the audience to listen and watch even if we don’t understand much of the original Italian, glancing in on the surtitles from time to time to make sure we’re not missing an important plot point (spoiler: probably not). It contributes, I think, to the general sense of well-being I was enjoying; I felt more free to immerse myself in what I was seeing and hearing than I usually do at the opera.
Let us talk about our boys, first. Opening night cast Dmitri Pittas as Rodolpho and Joshua Hopkins as Marcello made a nice pairing, lots of energy between them. I wasn’t blown away by either one, but they certainly showed up for the task, lively in their acting and very good in the duets, though overall I enjoyed Hopkins more. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, whom I was glad to have drawn (most of the main roles are double, or even triple, cast, so your cast may vary, see dealer for details) was my favorite, with so much nuance in his voice, and well paired with light and lively Phillip Addis as Schounard. Addis also plays Marcello on alternating performances, and I think his range is probably better displayed in that role, but he was a delight as Schounard.
Ultimately, I was glad to see the performance with Grazia Doronzio as Mimi, and Joyce El-Khoury as Musetta, though I feel confident that El-Khoury will have done a fine job as Mimi too when she sings that role for the alternating performances (which just sounds exhausting). But El Khoury’s voice, effortlessly moving from teasing to throbbing, bright as a lemon ice on a summer’s day at the top end, seems made for Musetta. I might feel the same after I heard her sing Mimi, I can’t tell – she’s clearly got the chops for it – but Doronzio’s Mimi was also really marvelous. She’s sung Mimi several times before over her career, and seems to have found just the right places to put so many of her lines.
A great crowd of COC Chorus and children from the Children’s Opera Company flood the stage in the middle two acts, all very charmingly costumed by David Farley (who also designed the clever set). Few things are not improved by young girls in junior bustles looking both self-important and awed in a night market at wintertime.
This production also made clear how much a great conductor makes a difference to an opera. Carlo Rizzi holds the orchestra in such brilliant control here, really wringing so much emotion out of them at all volumes. It was deeply pleasurable to feel like I could always, always hear even the smallest flourishes of both the voices and instruments. The score of Boheme is actually as complicated as the story (such as it is) is simple. Rizzi should have been carried out on the shoulders of the triumphant crowd and down the street to cheers and applause.
-The opera is playing 11 more performances, please see Canadian Opera Company for dates and time.
-Tickets range in price from $29 to $332, and can be purchase in person at the Four Seasons Centre box office, by telephone at 416-363-8231, or online.
photo credit Michael Cooper