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.