Canadian Stage’s Julie is an opera that fails to be the sum of its parts, playing in Toronto
Canadian Stage presents Julie, an opera by Philippe Boesmans based on the play Miss Julie written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg. This version has been shaved down to an hour-long production — a bare bones opera with three performers and a small chamber orchestra.
On the surface, there are plenty of aspects to Julie that are the prime ingredients for a fantastic hour of theatre. Unfortunately, though the individual components were amazing, the final product left much to be desired.
The story is fairly simple. Julie (Lucia Cervoni) is the daughter of a Count. She is having an affair with Jean (Clarence Frazer), the Count’s groom, while he is engaged to Julie’s personal cook and maid Christine (Sharleen Joynt). A sexy drunken encounter between Julie and Jean takes a dark turn when Jean suggests running away together to run a hotel, with Julie would running the front desk. As the daughter of a Count, Julie despises the idea of working. She also doesn’t have any money. As a storm rages overhead, truths are revealed and the situation turns ugly.
Julie is made up of three stunning Canadian opera performers — Cervoni, Frazer, and Joynt — whose voices were delightful throughout the show; an intriguing score composed by Philippe Boesmans; and a captivating set designed by Alain LaGarde complimented by great lighting by Michael Walton. Focusing on the individual elements on their own was what made the production easier to swallow as the glue that stuck it all together — the script, the story, the characters — completely unraveled and fell apart.
My discomfort with the production started from the beginning. There was a distinct disconnect between the action happening on stage between the characters and the accompanying music. As the characters are being revealed — Julie is a diva, Jean a bumbling womanizing drunkard, Christine the innocent doing her best to stand by her fiancé — in a joking and sardonic manner, the music kicked off on a strong and melodramatic note. The two didn’t match and it was enough to separate me from getting drawn into the characters’ narrative. There also wasn’t the rise and fall, the gradual descent into the inevitable madness that I was hoping the music would lead into.
I also found that the characters weren’t well developed at all and felt incredibly single-note throughout the show. As tidbits of backstory become uncovered later in the production, like the reveal that Julie’s mother burned down the estate, because there were no other factors anchoring them into place, it didn’t work to keep me invested.
For me, Julie can be split into two parts, marked by the raging storm that occurs midway through. That sequence was magnificently done in a feat of lighting, sound, and water effects. After the storm, I found myself feeling even more disconnected from the story than I was before. Though it climbed to a steady apex up to the moment of the storm, the descent after dispersed and crumbled in the later half.
In the program, it clearly states that this production of Julie has been heavily dissected from its original and I think that that may be what fails this production so much. I’ve never heard of an opera being only an hour long and with all the whittling down, I feel that much of the depth and soul of this story was left discarded on the cutting room floor.
- Julie is playing at the Bluma Appel Theatre at the St Lawrence Centre (27 Front St E) until November 29.
- Performances are Wednesday to Sunday at 8 pm with weekend matinees at 1 pm. See website for details.
- Tickets range from $24-$99 and can be purchased online.
Photo of Lucia Cervoni and Clarence Frazer by Cylla von Tiedermann