Review: Rent in Toronto Meets Opera in Against the Grain Theatre's LA BOHÈME

By: May. 20, 2017
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You've never seen a more boho Bohème. Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) presents Puccini's LA BOHÈME in a real Toronto dive bar, The Tranzac Club. AtG is doing something incredible in the world of opera right now - they're growing. When opera houses around the world are reporting declines in ticket sales and reductions in seasonal production budgets - AtG is selling out their run, offering "standing room only" tickets. Why? Their approach. Joel Ivany's LA BOHÈME is sung entirely in English, the libretto is appealing and entertaining and you can bring your drink to your seat! This production is the perfect introduction for opera newbies and a breath of fresh air for opera lovers.

We're introduced to Rodolfo and Marcello's shabby Toronto apartment just after they've lost their heat. To stay warm, Rodolfo burns sections of a screenplay he's been writing - Marcello adds a few of his recent paintings to the fire. They're sensitive bros - artistic, hopeless romantics. The power is the next to go, compelling Mimi (the upstairs neighbour) to stroll in, looking for someone to light her candle. Sound familiar?

I have a love-hate relationship with Joel Ivany's English libretto. I love how he's made the opera relatable to a modern, Toronto audience ("I saw her shopping on Bloor Street W"). The recitative (conversational music) is intelligent, funny and very - millennial. "Please sit, I'll text her" sung in classical voice will always get a laugh. What doesn't always work, in my opinion, is the relationship between the words and the voice, specifically in some of the arias. Puccini was careful to select vowels in Italian that correspond well with the voice type and notes being sung. When these align in Ivany's libretto, the voices follow.

In saying that, Ivany's libretto is opera translation in its finest form. He's made the opera accessible and he's managed to do it without sacrificing the art.

LA BOHÈME is a chance to see some extraordinary artists, up close. No opera glasses are needed while you sip your beer in the Tranzac Club. Adanya Dunn's Musetta might just pop a squat on your lap during an aria. Kenneth Kellogg's gorgeous coat aria is finally close enough that its intimacy is felt at its full effect. Topher Mokrzewski seems to play more notes on the piano than two hands have ever played - his orchestral reduction is lush.

The stand out performance of the evening belongs to Andrew Love as Marcello. A well-rounded performer, Love's characterization was well-defined and he seemed to best understand the vocal style required to let Ivany's libretto shine. One of the most magical musical moments was Marcello's duet with Rodolfo, played by the talented tenor, Owen McCausland. McCausland has a powerful voice, especially in his soaring top (which seems to have no limit). His Rodolfo was strongest in the tragedy of the final scenes with Kimy Mc Laren's Mimi. Together, they created a breathtaking finale to the evening, resulting in delayed applause from the audience. Silence after a piece like BOHÈME is appreciation at its most sincere.

Spend a few hours living la vie bohème in the 6ix with Against the Grain Theatre's innovative, vital production.


LA BOHÈME, presented by Against the Grain Theatre is playing through June 2, 2017 at the Tranzac Club, 292 Brunswick St., Toronto, ON

The run is officially sold-out, however - there are a limited amount of rush tickets available the night of each performance, at the door. Cash only! Line up as early at 7pm - doors open at 7:30pm.

For more information, visit

Director & Librettist - Joel Ivany | Music Director & Pianist - Topher Mokrzewski | Set & Costume Designer - Adriana Bogaard | Lighting Designer - Noah Feaver

STARRING Owen McCausland, Kimy Mc Laren, Andrew Love, Adanya Dunn, Kenneth Kellogg, Micah Schroeder, Gregory Finney

(photo credit: Amanda Hadi)


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