Last night we were as far removed from the elegant sophistication of the Four Seasons Centre as one can get. We were in the back room of the Tranzac for Against the Grain Theatre Company’s updated, Toronto version of Puccini’s much played La Bohème. The Tranzac is a club. It’s quite scruffy and for many years the Nomads hung out there. I have spent many a riotous evening there involving beer slides and too much booze. It also hosts music events; mostly folk and jazz. Last night’s show was in the big room at the back which, set up with tables as it was, holds maybe a hundred or so people. The bar was open throughout. The beer selection has improved markedly since I was last at the Tranzac with a good range of products from McAuslan’s and Mill Street.
Against the Grain is a newly formed company of youngish performers. Many of them are products of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. This was not an amateur show! What we got was a somewhat abridged version of La Bohème in a new English translation by Joel Ivany (who also directed) adapted to include the translation in place and time to contemporary Toronto sung with piano accompaniment and staged in and around the audience. The piece opens with Rudolfo and Marcello squatting at the Tranzac where, the libretto informs us, it is “fucking cold”. It rolls on from there in a similar vein and it’s very effective.
The singing was excellent. Adam Luther sang Rudolfo and showed that it was well within his compass, high notes and all. Laura Albino sang a serious Mimi capable of great and beautiful passion in her set pieces. Opera turned cabaret singer Lindsay Sutherland Boal was a thoroughly engaging Musetta. She pretty much stole the show in Act II when she worked the room in black corset and tight pants during her big aria. Christopher Mokrzewski was at the piano throughout and did a fine job.
All in all it was an enjoyable and worthwhile evening without the rather jarring aspect of displaying grinding poverty to the rich in their opera house finery. I really like that alongside the increasingly excellent offerings from the COC Toronto can offer opera in settings like the Tranzac.
There are two more performances; tonight and tomorrow.