"La Boheme" at Vancouver Opera

Posted by seanho on Sun 04 May 2008

So! For my birthday this year I treated myself to one of my favourite operas, "La Bohème"! I booked the tickets several months in advance, but even then within my price bracket I could only get seats way up in the nose-bleed section, joy! Should have brought binoculars....

It was a packed house; a bit stuffy up in the balcony. I still maintain that in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre there are no bad sightlines -- every seat has an excellent view -- but the acoustics deteriorate a bit way up in the cheap seats. I couldn't hear the soloists all that well (completely unamplified), and the rustling papers and shuffling feet of other patrons echoed off the ceiling. Next time, I'll try for the lower seats in the balcony, just behind the dress circle, like I had for the Nutcracker.

Still, once the orchestra got going with Puccini's sensuous, lush swells, it didn't really matter much; I lost myself in the music, so much so that the poor girl behind me had to tap me on the shoulder to get me to sit back in my seat! Ach, why does Puccini have to move so quickly -- right in the first act he launches straight into the good stuff, "Che gelida manina", Roldofo's song to Mimi, love at first sight. Had me tearing up right away! Don't know why I'm becoming such a hopeless romantic lately....

I think there's kind of a universal appeal to the story of "La Bohème" -- no gods or heroes or mythical creatures here, just the story of four everymen and their loves. But while gently poking fun at the youthful naïveté of its protagonists, to me the music elevates their struggles and hopes and loves to the transcendent -- universal emotions that any audience can identify with, amplified and impassioned.

The opera went by way too quickly; I wish I hadn't spent so much time reading the subtitles. There are so many scenes with multiple singers and counterpoint; there's a lot to track -- throughout the whole second act, the stage is full of players. I should have read up more on the libretto before going, so that I wouldn't have to read the subtitles -- which were atrocious, anyway! The little two-line display had no hope of keeping up with the duets and quartets, and the subtitles had to simplify so much, they made the dialogue even more trite than it already is. "Che gelida manina" and "Sì, mi chiamano
Mimì" -- Rodolfo's and Mimi's introductions to each other -- were so trivialized in the subtitles that the whole thing felt more like a 19th-century episode of "Friends" than a timeless classic. I was pretty miffed at that!

But when I just closed my eyes and forgot about tracking the subtitles, the music was just sublime. Puccini was unashamed in bowing a whole section of heart-strings, even as the glockenspiel lightly danced above, and conductor Jacques Lacombe was masterful in guiding the dynamics. Baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson was particularly notable in his powerful rendition of Marcello, but soprano Frédérique Vézina (Mimi) really needs to tone down that annoying vibrato -- her attempts at holding a steady note only reveal that the vibrato is just trying to hide lacking intonation.

In keeping with tradition, I spotted a famous celebrity again at the opera! Not a movie star this time, but the esteemed Dr. Paul Stevens from Regent College, known for his marketplace ministry and marriage counselling ministries! He would probably not like being called a celebrity. :) He was there with his family, also in the cheap seats, a few rows down from me. His left hand was all in a cast; hope it's not a serious injury.

Well, it was a pleasant evening, quiet and peaceful ... yeah, I'm reasonably happy, I think.

tags: birthday, opera,