Last night at the COC there was a special performance of Puccini’s La Bohème. The cast was made up, for the most part, of current and past Ensemble Studio members and tickets had been made available free to a variety of community groups. It was billed as “Opera for Toronto”. There had also been a small number of tickets available on line on a first come basis and, by the looks of things , a fair number of comps for the cast.
Obviously the idea here was to attract people who are not habitual opera goers. I’m curious to know if it succeeded. I couldn’t really tell. My impression was that the audience was slightly younger than normal, though a good chunk of that would have been the sort of people one sees at dress rehearsals; students, young singers etc. There were also rather a lot of empty seats which suggests that either the take up in the community groups was not what one might hope for or that free tickets means lots of no shows. I’d be very curious to see some sort of analysis of who was actually there. It’s an imaginative and welcome idea but it maybe shows just how hard it is to attract a new audience.
The show itself was most enjoyable. It’s the same production as the main stage show currently on and I’ve said all I have to say about that. It’s also the same conductor. I can now confirm that any reservations I had about the orchestra sound appear to have been a function of where we were sitting on Sunday. From half way back in the orchestra things sounded just fine.
The singing was unreservedly good. Andrew Haji as Rodolfo was in excellent form and had those top notes one looks for. Lauren Margison as Mimi was a revelation. She’s been growing into a more dramatic voice for a while now (not always the most fun thing to listen to as it develops!) but, based on last night’s showing she’s pretty much there. At least as far as Mimi type rep is concerned. There’s plenty of power and the voice goes from a really solid bottom to really sweet high notes. It’s lovely to listen to (and she’s still well shy of thirty).
Sam Chan was a very competent Marcello; effective in the ensembles and sounding very nice on the odd occasion he had to be heard solo (Puccini hated baritones!). It was great to see Neil Craighead back in Toronto as Schaunard and Joel Allison was once again Colline. Lauren Eberwein was an attractive Musetta. I still don’t really know where she’s going as a singer but I pretty much always enjoy her performances and this was no exception. Doug McNaughton emerged from retirement as Benoit/Alcindoro to good effect.
So, a good evening at the opera. I hope there were lots of newbies there and that it encourages them to come back. Time will tell I guess.
Photo credit (production photos): Michael Cooper