Parlando: The COC Blog


Introduction to La Bohème

By Meighan Szigeti, Associate Manager, Digital Marketing and Danielle D'Ornellas, Digital Marketing Coordinator

All you needed to know about… La Bohème

So what’s it all about?

La Bohème is a story of a young group of bohemians, originally set in 1840s Paris in the Quartier Latin. The four main characters, Mimì, Rodolfo, Musetta and Marcello, and their friends Colline and Schaunard all share the ups and downs of a typically bohemian life – love, loss, poverty, fun, and living life as if it was a performance. You have Rodolfo the poet, Mimì the seamstress, Marcello the painter, Musetta the singer, Schaunard the musician and Colline the philosopher, each defined by what they do, but not limited by it. As an opera, La Bohème is both light-hearted and heartbreaking, and has drawn audiences since its premiere with its emotional score and story-telling.

Want a quick synopsis? Head over here to read the plot on the performance. (Spoiler alert if you haven't seen it yet!)

Mimì and Rodolfo vs. Marcello and Musetta — which couple do you prefer?

When watching a performance of La Bohème, it’s quickly apparent there’s a juxtaposition between the two couples in the opera. It's almost as if Musetta and Marcello act as the extroverted, dynamic foil to the more down-to-earth and tender romance of Mimì and Rodolfo. 

So if you’re a fan of the “dreamy, sensitive, just can't seem to make it work” camp, Mimì and Rodolfo might be for you, but if you’re more interested in the funny and feisty “did they break-up again?!” type of couple, you may be drawn more to Musetta and Marcello instead. Thankfully we have a handy chart to help you decide which pair of lovers you relate to more:

Mimì and Rodolfo

Musetta and Marcello

How did they meet?

A sweet, serendipitous meeting when Mimì’s candle goes out as she’s walking past Rodolfo’s apartment.

We have no idea, since they are introduced to us as former lovers. We meet Musetta on the arms of her aging sugar daddy with Marcello trying really hard to ignore her, but you know, he can't, because it’s Musetta. 

Why did they break up?

Rodolfo acts harshly, but he is masking a terrible guilt that he cannot provide the care that Mimì's delicate health requires. He pushes her away so she can attract a much wealthier suitor who would have more resources to support her through her illness. 

Musetta is an independent woman and Marcello a free-spirited artist — they should be together, but their stubborn nature just won't let them! They end things in Act III with a catty argument, yet seemingly reconcile during Mimi's illness. So who knows what their future holds? 

Who's their pop culture equivalent?

Oliver and Jenny from Love Story.

Ross and Rachel from Friends


Why is La Bohème so special?

This opera is one of the operas that everyone knows, has listened to, or has some knowledge of. Much like The Barber of Seville and Carmen, La Bohème has sunk its teeth into the popular cultural subconscious (as described in our previous blog post) and has inspired other pieces of popular musical theatre like Rent. Puccini’s score and Henri Murger's story draw the audience in with memorable melodies, youthful and irreverent characters, and a heartbreaking romance. It's an opera that attracts many opera newbies with its universal story of love and loss, but with enough musical firepower to keep aficionados coming back for more.

What will the production look like? 

This summer we tagged along with set and costume designer David Farley as he gives us a behind-the-scenes hint of his beautiful sets and costumes designs. Watch the video below for a preview of the props and scenery used in the opera. 


Who’s starring in it?

Many of the roles require two singers because of the number of performances and some of the cast do vocal multi-tasking to switch between roles!

Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury is one of the stars playing double duty, performing both as the sassy Musetta and the tragic. Also playing Mimì is Grazia Doronzio, a talented Italian soprano who has sung the role in many opera houses in Europe and North America. Both singers are recent graduates of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and are making their COC debuts.

Musetta is also performed by Vancouver-born Simone Osborne, a 2012 graduate of the COC’s Ensemble Studio who has spent the last year traveling to Japan, Zurich, Los Angeles, Dubai and back home again! But this won’t be the only chance to see Simone — she’ll also be playing Oscar in Un ballo in maschera on the COC mainstage in February 2014.

Playing the romantic Rodolfo are a number of talented tenors, The sensitive poet is ably played by three charming American tenors, Dimitri Pittas, Michael Fabiano and Eric Margiore (read more about them in our post about the trio here!)

Musetta's charming, sometimes lover, the painter Marcello is played by baritones Joshua Hopkins and Phillip Addis. Hopkins is reprising his role in this new co-production, having also performed the role at Houston Grand Opera in 2012. Phillip Addis recently played Marcello at the Calgary Opera and Theatre Basel, and when he's not performing as Marcello in our production, he does double-duty as Schaunard.

Rounding out the cast are Christian Van Horn and Tom Corbeil as Colline, and Ensemble Studio member Cameron McPhail, sharing the role of Schaunard with Phillip AddisThomas Hammons as both Benoît and Alcindoro, Ensemble Studio members Owen McCausland as Parpignol, Clarence Frazer as Customs House Sergeant and Gordon Bintner as Customs Officer, and Doug MacNaughton also sharing the role of the Customs Officer. 

Want to learn more?

If you want to explore some of the links we've provided in this post, we've gathered them all here for your reading and viewing pleasure!

The Three Tenors: Meet Dimitri Pittas, Eric Margiore and Michael Fabiano
La Bohème in Pop Culture
Inside Opera: Building Bohème: Costumes and Wigs
Inside Opera: Building Bohème: Props and Scenery
Inside Opera: The Greatest Love Story Ever Sung 
Artist Basics: David Farley 
Behind the Scenes at the COC: September 27, 2013

Photos: (top) (l-r) Phillip Addis as Marcello, Eric Margiore as Rodolfo, Cameron McPhail as Schaunard and Tom Corbeil as Colline; (middle) Eric Margiore as Rodolfo and Joyce El-Khoury as Mimì; (middle) Phillip Addis as Marcello and Simone Osborne as Musetta; (middle, bottom) A scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of La Bohème, 2013. All photos from the Canadian Opera Company's 2013 production of La Bohème. Photos by Chris Hutcheson.

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The 2013/2014 Free Concert Series Begins

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Supporting the Next Generation of Opera Singers

By Alexander Neef, General Director

As I watched this year’s Ensemble Studio members perform their first concert of the season in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre last week, I was once again struck by the wonderful musical talent that this country produces.

In creating the Ensemble Studio in 1980, former General Director Lotfi Mansouri had the foresight to begin the process of intensive training and nurturing of young Canadian artists, and it’s a legacy that I take very seriously.

This summer I visited three different young artist programs, starting in St. Andrews by-the-sea, New Brunswick, observing and participating in Wendy Nielsen’s fantastic opera program there. As I’m sure you know, Wendy is a world-renowned soprano who has appeared on our stage, as well as all the major stages of the world. In the past few years she has begun teaching, and last year I asked her to join the COC as a special coach for the Ensemble.

Although her program has been around for 10 years, I haven’t been able to visit it until this summer. The program is special for several reasons, but I particularly like that it is process-oriented — not results-oriented. There’s no showcase at the end of the program, so a singer can use his or her time to focus on specific strengths and weaknesses and figure out how to work on particular issues, rather than have to prepare for a performance.

St. Andrews is a small seaside town without the distractions of city life, so for the 10-day or two-week period while they are there, it’s all about the individuals and their improvement, and Wendy always assembles a fantastic team of coaches. This year the teaching staff included Liz Upchurch (the head of our Ensemble Studio program), and Anne Larlee and Tom Diamond — both graduates of the Ensemble as well. I was pleased to spend a few days there, sitting in on coachings, spending a few minutes in working sessions with each student individually, and finally hosting a Q & A with the entire group.

Alexander Neef with Anne Larlee, Lewis Dalvit and Wendy Nielsen

Later in August, I went back to Santa Fe Opera for the fifth year in a row to catch up on its always impressive mainstage opera season.

Santa Fe Opera also has a large and respected apprentice program comprised of singers, stage hands, dressers, etc. The apprentices spend the summer at the festival, and the singers, in addition to their individual training, are also the chorus for the mainstage operas. I enjoy going near the end of their season because in mid-August the apprentice singers give a public presentation of opera scenes. Hearing them in these scenes is a good way to assess their particular skills, almost better than in a single audition because these performances tend to be more honest.

In late August, for the third year in a row, I went up north to hang out with young Canadian singers at the Highlands Opera program in Haliburton. Highlands Opera gives young Canadian singers training as well as a showcase at the end of their stay. This year the program ended with performances of La Traviata, featuring Ensemble graduates Ambur Braid and Adam Luther as Violetta and Alfredo. I did 15-minute sessions with each of them and then a follow-up Q & A with the group. As always, it is inspiring to see and hear what the future holds.

Speaking of the future, please join us as the COC presents its third annual Ensemble Vocal Competition at the company’s fundraising gala – Centre Stage, on November 26. It’s a musical celebration and this year we are shining the spotlight even more brightly on up-and-coming opera stars by holding the competition in R. Fraser Elliott Hall, and the singers will perform with our COC Orchestra under the baton of Music Director Johannes Debus. Having scouted opera talent from across the country for the Ensemble Studio, what better way to recognize the young singers being fostered in this country than by creating a public platform that celebrates the future of opera in Canada?

Photos: (top) Alexander Neef. Photo by; (middle) (l-r, back to front) Members of 2013/2014 Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio. (l-r, back to front) Andrew Haji, Charlotte Burrage, Owen McCausland, Gordon Bintner, Aviva Fortunata, Claire de Sévigné, Cameron McPhail, Clarence Frazer, Sasha Djihanian, Danielle MacMillan, Michael Shannon. Photo by Karen Reeves; (middle) St. Andrews, New Brunswick; (middle) Alexander Neef with Anne Larlee, Lewis Dalvit and Wendy Nielsen; Santa Fe Opera. Photo credits: Alexander Neef unless otherwise noted.

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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001