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La Boheme [Image courtesy of Manitoba Opera]
23 Apr 2014

La Bohème, Manitoba

Manitoba Opera’s first production in nine years of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème still stirs the heart and inspires tears with its tragic tale of bohemian artists living — and loving — in 1840s Paris.

La Bohème, Manitoba

A review by Holly Harris

Above image courtesy of Manitoba Opera


Three performances of the quintessentially romantic opera based on Henri Murger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème were held April 5 - 11 at Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall.

Canadian opera/theatre director Brian Deedrick, who also helmed MO’s April 2013 production of Aida, once again displayed his clear artistic vision and deft attention to detail, including adding effective bits of stage business to create further textural layering.

Realistic sets by Wolfram Skalicki (on loan from Edmonton Opera), lit by Bill Williams, included a cutaway garret worthy of any starving artist and jaw-dropping Latin Quarter street-café and city park scenes complete with gently falling snow. Maestro Daniel Lipton led the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra through Puccini’s lushly orchestrated score that teems with one soaring melody after another.

Marking her MO debut, American soprano Danielle Pastin imbued her lead role of Mimì with heart-wrenching pathos, her clear voice and artfully executed phrasing first displayed during tender aria “Mi chiamano Mimì.” As she became increasingly wrought with “consumption,” her voice only grew in luminosity until her final, poignant duet sung with Rodolfo: “Sono andati?”

Rodolfo performed by Eric Fennell (MO debut) often felt eclipsed by the orchestra and rest of the strong cast, his otherwise fine lyric tenor not always fully projecting and perilously close to becoming subsumed during aria “Che gelida manina.” He fared better during ensemble numbers, such as the sparks-flying quartet “Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina!” where the two lead couples contrapuntally play off eacher other.

American tenor Keith Phares (MO debut) delivered a standout performance as smock-wearing artiste Marcello, Rodolfo’s friend and lover of saucy playgirl Musetta. He painted his character with testosterone-fuelled swagger, brooding about love with Rodolfo during duet “O Mimi, tu più non torni.”

The perfectly cast Winnipeg soprano Lara Ciekiewicz first flounced onstage as Musetta with her hapless “mummy” and sugar daddy, Alcindoro (bass-baritone David Watson, doubling as landlord Benoit) before delivering an effervescent “Quando me’n vo’.” The gifted actress embarked on her own emotional trajectory that ends when she reveals a beating heart of gold during the final act.

And the Act’s finale where the choristers join Musetta in her lilting waltz is opera at its most lump-in-the-throat, glorious best.

Bass-baritone Giles Tomkins (MO debut) also crafted a convincing philosopher Colline, who particularly shone during aria “Vecchia zimarra,” as did baritone Peter McGillivray as musician Schaunard. The male ensemble’s camaraderie became palpable as the four flatmates jousted with baguettes and mused about life, love and how they were going to make next month’s rent.

Opera’s calling card is spectacle, and the MO Chorus (prepared by Tadeusz Biernacki), Children’s Chorus (Carolyn Boyes) augmented by a motley crew of ragtag supernumeraries created enthralling eye candy during Act 2’s street scene, including their lively “Aranci, datteri! Caldi i marroni!” Gendarmerie, street urchins, a marching band, Pierrot character and an all-too-fleeting appearance by toy vendor Parpignol (reprised by Winnipeg’s Peter Klymkiw) added to the full-bore sensory experience that elicited audible gasps from the audience.

Holly Harris

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