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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review: La Bohème

Marianne Fiset as Mimi (Photo: Yves Renaud)

Bugs clears the aria
L’Opera de Montreal’s new million-dollar La Boheme doesn’t quite make the cut
By Richard “Bugs” Burnett
 Man, I had such high hopes for L’Opera de Montreal’s brand-new season-closing production of Puccini’s masterpiece La Bohème. As its talented director Alain Gauthier told The Charlebois Post in a preview feature story last week, “It’s pretty hard to do a shitty La Bohème… I’m not straying far from the original production of La Bohème, which is beloved by audiences who don’t like it when you mess around with a classic.”
Gauthier didn’t stray far from the original script at all. Problem is, this production – budgeted at a whopping $1.15 million – spent a ton of cash on a new set that never properly served the plot. The central new piece is a factory-window-like backdrop that also doubled as a cheesy silhouette of the 19th-century Paris skyline as seen from dirt-poor bohemian Rodolfo’s unbelievably huge Attic apartment. The rest of the set was essentially made up of steps and several multi-purpose chimneys that made this reporter wonder where all the money was spent.
Fiset is a very good actor and has a soaring voice one always heard no matter what she sang.
I don’t think big cash was likely spent hiring the two leads – Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger, who plays Rodolfo, and Canadian soprano Marianne Fiset, who plays Mimi, both Quebecers who were enthusiastically welcomed by the hometown audience. Marianne Fiset as Mimi was absolutely excellent. She is a very good actor and has a soaring voice one always heard no matter what she sang.
The Orchestre Métropolitain under conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia never drowned out Fiset, but this reporter often struggled to hear Bélanger. Clearly Bélanger is a lyric tenor because he just didn't have the power to blast out his Act 1 aria, La Boheme’s signature song, which, to be brutally honest, is unforgivable.
Despite the great efforts of director Alain Gauthier, the new stage and vocal delivery of Bélanger made this production so-so at best – and ultimately stripped L'OdeM's La Boheme of the emotional punch (especially at the very end) that could have saved it.
Puccini's La Bohème at L’Opéra de Montréal continues May 25, 28, 30, June 2 and 4.
Duration: Four acts, 2 hours and 30 minutes, with two intermissions

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