La Bohème in the pub

La Bohème in the pub

Good idea, opera in the pub. Against the Grain Theatre  is performing a stripped-to-the-essentials, English-language La Bohème at one of the grungiest, indiest live music bars in the Annex, the Transac, and the magic is still there.  References are localized (Colline gets a job at the neighbouring sponsor of the show, and the Gladstone Hotel and similar get mentioned), and the action moves around, to the bar, then back to the stage space, singers travel between the tables, borrow people’s pints and return them empty, etc.

Laura Albino and Adam Luther are convincing as Mimi and Rodolfo, and Lindsay Sutherland Boal’s Musetta as a cabaret femme fatale with a sense of humour works very well. My companion who has barely any experience with opera immediately fell for  Stephen Hegedus’s Colline, personality and timbre both, so that deserves a special mention.  There was a chorus of hipsters holding their drinks! Mimi dies while sitting in a chair–thank god we didn’t have to deal with a bout of misguided realism that putting her on a bed would be–but one wonders if something could have been done with the traditional ending here. Maybe Mimi could have gotten a fashion design scholarship to La Domus Academy in Milan, and the friends would be grieving the fact that she was the only one of the group of artists who was ‘going to make it’? It’s opera in a bar, people: where else can you experiment this way?

Music and music direction was provided by the one man orchestra, Christopher Mokrzewski at the bar piano. The verve of his playing never wavered. (He deserves praise in poetic almost-alliteration.)

There are two performances left: tonight and tomorrow. Support this art form, and it will return for more rounds.

A trip to the past: It’s 1956. Prime Minister is Louis St. Laurent, the universal old age pensions are just being introduced, Canada Council for the Arts established. Abroad,  the Suez Canal crisis is brewing. Renata Tebaldi introduces herself as Mimi to Jussi Bjorling who says the Sì.

8 thoughts on “La Bohème in the pub

  1. I’ve been to the Tranzac (on a night when it was full of Irish musos). Perfect venue for a street-level Boheme. What a great idea!

  2. I know, right? I usually go there to hear bands like the Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra or The Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People.

    A lot of the traditional opera goers showed up too last night, judging by when they applauded.

  3. We went on Friday night. The beer has definitely improved since I used to hang out there with the Nomads. Nobody did a beer slide and nobody threw up. Can I really have been at the Tranzac?

  4. Not me, alas — but then, like the man said, I been away a long time. I read “grungiest indiest live-music places in the Annex” and thought — really? In my day there was I suppose Lee’s Palace, and Sneaky Dee’s, but the Transac must have come along later. Where is it and what’s it all about, may an ageing exile inquire?

    1. Bob,

      the Tranzac has been there since 1971. It’s been home to all sorts of weird groups. The Toronto Nomads rugby club used to hang out there. The Flying Cloud Folk Club were there too (may still be for all I know). It’s always hosted a bunch of Australian and NZ related stuff though less, I think, than it once did. All kinds of musical and theatrical events take place there including the annual NAGS panto. If you have never seen Pete Towill in drag you may never want to…

  5. Huh. And I lived in those parts, more or less, from 1982 to 1989 — the last three of those up at Howland and Dupont. I must have passed it ten thousand times (just looked up the location on the club’s website). Why can’t I remember the place? Advancing age maybe; or else I spent too much time in other pubs/clubs in the neighbourhood. Funny, as they say, old world.

  6. Bob, Lee`s Palace`s indie-ness and interesting-ness has been frayed for some time even before they closed for renos and opened with the falafel takeout taking up a good chunk of the ground floor. I can`t remember last time I heard anybody talking excitedly about going to Lee`s. Usually people go there as filler before something else. May it see better days.

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