Vancouver Opera
La Bohème Music by Giacomo Puccini, Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica

Dates and Venue February 14, 16, 19, 21 at 7.30; February 24 at 2 pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver

Conductor Judith Yan Director Renaud Doucet Set and Costume Designer Andre Barbé Lighting designer Guy Simard Chorus Director Leslie Dalla Children's Chorus Director Kinza Tyrrell Stage Manager Theresa Tsang

Marcello Phillip Addis Rodolfo Ji-Min Park Mimi France Bellemare Musetta Sharleen Joynt Colline Neil Craighead Schounard Geoffrey Schellenberg Benoit/Alcindoro J. Patrick Raftery

Vancouver Opera Chorus, Vancouver Opera Orchestra

In Italian with English surtitles

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

A joy to hear and a pleasure to see, VO’s was a rollicking, heart-wrenching delight. La Bohème usually opens directly in the attic lodgings of Rodolfo, a poet (Ji-Min Park) and Marcello (Phillip Addis), a painter, but in this production it takes some moments to get there. Director Renard Doucet takes liberties with the text by setting the opera as the fantasy of a modern young woman dying of cancer whom we see wandering though the famous Paris Marché aux Puces de St. Ouen. As she puts an old 78 of La Bohème on an antique-dealer’s record player Puccini’s dramatic strains morph from the recording to the very much alive Vancouver Orchestra and we are instantly in the roof-top garret of the 2 young artists. The time is 1925, another liberty but one which works well, giving the sense of artistic vitality and brittle social gaiety associated with Paris of the Belle Époque as well as with Paris of Josephine Baker, Hemingway, Stein, Man Ray, Cocteau, Diaghilev, all of whom appear briefly.

Ji-Min Park and Phillip Addis are splendid as the starving young artists, clearly serious about their work and desperately light-hearted about everything else. Except love. Both Addis and Park are adept at conveying depth of emotion. Addis is the more restrained and radiates kindness. An excellent partner in every duet or ensemble piece, Addis’s Marcello is always an individual. Park is an exuberant lover. Even sitting still, listening to Mimi sing about her life, he was energetically intent. Singing, he was brilliant. His first aria, “Che gelida manina” was robust, passionate and winningly open. Conductor Judith Yan allowed a luxuriously slow pace, filling the hall with effortless sound.

France Bellemare’s Mimi was altogether more self-effacing, although full of warmth and charm. She has a lovely, lyric voice which carried well across the orchestra and she was always engaged with the other characters on the stage. It was easy to see her overwhelmed by Rodolfo’s behaviour, less easy to believe in her (off-stage) life as a courtesan. Sharleen Joynt’s Musette was an original down to the on-stage cheetah, bursting with life, volatile and generous. Gorgeously dressed by Andre Barbe, she almost stole the show.

Neil Craighead (Colline), delightfully eccentric throughout, produced a soft, and low, “Vecchia zimarra”, very poignant and sad, capturing the all sorrow of Mimi’s dying.

The chorus and the children, well prepared by Leslie Dala and Kinza Tyrrell, had a great deal of fun as inhabitants of the market in the first half and were suitably surly and subversive as French workers in the second.

Extremely detailed and well-planned stage direction gave every performer and every part of the set a spotlight, a still, a fade, a story, a meaning. Delightful in themselves and full of interest, the very busy set and the very busy crowd scenes were so full of distractions as to take away from the main focus. Effective and equally well-planned lighting by Guy Simard mitigated but didn’t quite overcome this defect. Another distraction was the additional music added to complement the 1920’s setting and to cover a scene change. Again, they pieces were excellently performed and a pleasure in themselves but unnecessary to either Puccini’s opera or the updated setting..

Altogether, this is a touching, lively and unusual La Bohème, well-worth seeing, however many Bohème's are in your past.

© 2019 Elizabeth Paterson