Bohemian Like You

POV’s La Bohème lives up to its reputation

Left to right: Marianne Fiset as Musetta, Alexander Dobson as Marcello, Luc Robert as Rodolfo, Rhoslyn Jones as Mimi, Alexandre Sylvestre as Schaunard and Giles Tomkins as Colline in Pacific Opera Victoria's La Boheme

POV’s La Bohème lives up to its reputation

Like aging pop singers doomed to reproduce the old hits, opera companies have to keep their audiences on side by dragging out one of the few real barn-burners in the genre every season.

But while pop singers may grow tired of the ritual and deliver a rote performance of songs they’ve sung a million times before, opera companies are blessed with young singers who want to build their careers and are happy to tear into the big, beautiful arias that put those popular operas on top of the heap.

Pacific Opera Victoria had sold so many advance tickets for their current production of the sainted Puccini’s greatest hit, La Bohème, that they took the almost unheard of step of adding an additional performance even before the show opened. If opening night was any indication, those extra patrons won’t be disappointed — though they’re not going to hear exactly what last Thursday’s audience heard.

The Belfry’s Michael Shamata, directing his first-ever opera, has moved the time frame of this Bohème up a century to the 1930s, a decision that seems to have had no real effect or even reason other than to perhaps make costuming easier. But the costuming is one of the few flaws in the show.

The story revolves around a group of impoverished artists and the women they love. These are men who have not deux sous to frottez ensemble, yet their clothes are clean, free of holes and rather expensive looking. At one point, Mimi, who ekes out a living making embroidered flowers, is wrapped up in a coat that makes her look like a rather well-paid typist on her way to the Metro.

Of course, visual presentation isn’t really what opera is about, though John Ferguson’s set is very effective and Alan Brodie’s lighting is extremely good, especially in Mimi’s death scene. What we really come for is the music and most particularly the singing and, one quibble aside, this was first-class.

While Rhoslyn Jones may not look the part of a consumptive, she sang Mimi in a powerful and clear soprano with just a hint of vibrato. Baritone Alexander Dobson’s duet with Rodolfo was beautifully articulated and timed, and soprano Marianne Fiset was wonderful as the coquettish Musetta. And the difference in Thursday’s performance? New York based tenor Gerard Powers subbing for an ailing Luc Robert as Rodolfo.

POV usually brings us the best of the pool of young Canadian opera talent, so we don’t often get to hear someone as experienced and brilliant as Powers on the Royal Theatre’s stage. His curtain call brought the opening night audience to their feet roaring — deservedly so.

And that quibble? It’s obvious that conductor Timothy Vernon loves this score — this is POV’s fifth Bohème — and he’s clearly infected the Victoria Symphony with his passion. But opening night, the musicians’ exuberance was a tad too much, causing them to drown out the singers on several occasions. This used to be a common occurrence in the early days of POV, but I haven’t encountered it for several years now. Tim, we know you’re in thrall to the master’s oeuvre, but try to dial it back a bit for the singers’ sake!

La BohèmeTo Feb. 28Royal Theatre, 805 BroughtonTickets $30-$

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