by Suzanne Vanstone
Whether you are an opera neophyte or a seasoned aficionado, chances are you have experienced La Bohème’s beautiful music and heart-wrenching tale in some fashion – be it with a full production, excerpted highlights, or perhaps that aria on the radio that you can’t quite name, but know intimately. A repertoire staple since the company’s inaugural season in 1950, the COC is thrilled to bring a brand new Bohème to its stage under the direction of Tony-award winning director John Caird.
Caird very much enjoyed working at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts when he was last here to direct Don Carlos in 2007. “The building has a light, airy feeling, both in the public foyer spaces and in the hall itself. The space is not pretentious but rather incorporates a real sense of community. It was a great pleasure to work there and I look forward to my return with La Bohème.”
In creating this new co-production with Houston and San Francisco, Caird and set and costume designer David Farley have taken inspiration from France’s Belle Époque, capturing the romance and artistic brilliance at the heart of this opera.
La Bohème is based on Scènes de la vie de bohème, a play by Henri Murger and Théodore Barrière, as well as a novel by Murger of the same name. But as Caird says, “In reality, the original works were neither a novel nor a play, but rather vignettes, glimpses into the lives of the bohemian lifestyle in Paris’s Latin Quarter.” Murger vividly captured the Bohemians’ unconventional attitude towards freedom, pleasure and love, as well as their complete commitment to art, but he also reminded his readers of the harsh realities of their lives.
At La Bohème’s core is the sad story of Mimì, an ailing seamstress and her lover Rodolfo. But Caird ingeniously uses the four young artists: Marcello, a painter; Rodolfo, a poet; Schaunard, a musician; Colline, a philosopher; to propel the story, each employing their particular talent. “All four young men possess wit and talent but they aren't as good at their relationships as they are at their art. Rodolfo knows he must lose Mimì and Marcello runs hot and cold with Musetta, but by the end of the story we know that both men will move on and certainly love again.”
“Rather than relationships, their art is what is paramount to them – art is their true passion. No matter what is happening around them, Rodolfo pauses to write down a line of verse; Marcello feverishly paints and sketches. Like all good artists, they don't want a moment to slip by without, in some way, recording it.”
Caird has set this production a bit later in the 19th century, inspired by what was happening in Paris at the time. “We drew great inspiration from the great painter Toulouse-Lautrec who was capturing all aspects of street life, feeding the desire for the wealthy classes to peer into the seamier side of life.” The set design revolves around a mosaic of canvases, painted by Marcello, that frame the action within the opera’s changing Parisian locales. Some paintings remain fixed, some turn in place to create scene changes, and others fly in to enhance the artistic effect.
Puccini’s ability to create compelling characters and express larger-than-life emotions through unforgettable melodies is what makes La Bohème a perpetual favourite of audiences. “A great opera like Bohème is a beautifully crafted construction of melodies and musical dialogue – and Puccini’s craftsmanship is quite astonishing. As always, it will be an unalloyed pleasure to share a rehearsal room with his music. Having said that, my own work is only ever as good as the cast I am working with, and from whom I draw my own inspiration. In this respect I am being doubly rewarded - with two superb casts, both brimming over with youthful energy and enthusiasm.”
This article is published in our La Bohème house program. Click here to read the original article online.
Photos: (top) (l-r) Dimitri Pittas as Rodolfo, Grazia Doronzio as Mimì, Joyce El-Khoury as Musetta and Joshua Hopkins as Marcello in the Canadian Opera Company production of La Bohème, 2013. Photo by Michael Cooper. (middle) John Caird; (middle) Eric Margiore as Rodolfo and Joyce El-Khoury as Mimì in the Canadian Opera Company production of La Bohème, 2013. Photo by Chris Hutcheson; (bottom) A scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of La Bohème, 2013. Photo by Michael Cooper.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001