La Bohème has been running at the COC for a couple of weeks now but last night was the first performance for the second cast. There are some new faces; Michael Fabiano comes in as Rodolfo with Simone Osborne as Musetta, Tom Corbeil as Colline and Cameron McPhail as Schaunard. There are also some change ups. Joyce El-Khoury swaps Musetta for Mimi and Phillip Addis swaps Schaunard for Marcello. I’ll be back Friday to see the opening night cast with the exception of Eric Margiore coming in as Rodolfo.
John Caird’s production, with sets and costumes by David Farley, is lively and engaging without trying to have any big ideas. The sets are mostly made up of canvasses by the painter, Marcello. They, and the costumes, evoke 19th Paris very effectively. There’s snow where there’s supposed to be snow and there are no Nazi stormtroopers. On the other hand there is none of the bourgeois excess that gets tacked onto many Bohème productions. The lighting is effective and the sets are constructed in such a way that the Act 1/2 and Act 3/4 scene changes are over in seconds. It creates a solid framework for some excellent and well directed ensemble singing and acting.
I think it’s the ensemble work that stands out in this production, especially the guys. COC has chosen to cast relatively young singers in all the main roles which gives a realism, a freshness and a spontaneity that this piece desperately needs. (Young singers in roles originally designed for young singers seems to be becoming a COC trademark. Good!). This aspect of the production is best exemplified in the clowning around by the boys at the beginning of Act 4. They are obviously having fun and it really sets up the poignant final scene by contrast.
The singers are all well up to the mark. I thought the stand out was Michael Fabiano’s Rodolfo. He has a fine Italianate tenor with plenty of power and the ability to sing a legato line. He can also sing more softly when required. Amongst the men he is well backed up by Phillip Addis’ dark, attractive Marcello, pretty singing from Tom Corbeil and the considerable comic talents of Cam McPhail. The ladies are also very good. Joyce El-Khoury is quite a fragile Mimi; sensitive and easy on the ear but perhaps lacking the creamy tone of, say, Mirella Freni (OK I know I’m straying into ‘not since Callas…’ territory here). Simone Osborne gives a well sung and acted Musetta but I don’t really think it’s one of her best roles. She was obviously having fun but I’m not sure “good time girl” sits naturally with her considerable talents. I’m very curious now about Friday because Joyce does seem a more obvious candidate for Musetta than Mimi.
Carlo Rizzi conducts and gets solid work out of the excellent COC orchestra and chorus. He supports the singers well and still manages to pull off those Puccini bingo card “heartstring plucking” moments.
Last night was a non-subscription night which means most of the audience were likely occasional opera goers. They were clearly very impressed and they should have been. All in all, his is a very neatly packaged night at the opera. The production has something for everyone from newbie through traditionalist to, well, people like me. The performances are uniformly good and it’s very slickly done. With briskish tempi and slick scene changes we were out of the theatre two hours and fifteen minutes after curtain. This would be a great show to use to introduce someone new to opera.
Please note: Michael Fabiano does not feature in these pictures. In all cases the Rodolfo is Eric Margiore who will sing the role on October 18, 22, 25, 29.