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15th Gala

Also published in The Rover.

Leopard print and gold stilettos welcomed us to Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, or as it is known in family jargon, daddy’s angry place. The hall looked the same but the opera crowd was thick for a Sunday matinee and more pomaded than usual. Offstage and on, ambition was in the air.

Three hours later we stumbled out drenched in champagne, flicked the opera groupies off, and assessed: fourteen singers had performed twenty-three arias in three hours, with a long introspective pause for the audience. A convincing case was made for the depth of local talent, and two of the evening’s three stars (Julie Boulianne, Lara Cieckiewicz, and Etienne Dupius) were members of the Atelier lyrique, strong evidence for its future importance.

The future of the local audience, however, was cast into question. Our colleagues-in-seats were a fabulous spectrum of grey; now, this is hardly unusual for the opera, a musical form with enough high cultural affectations to keep out even brave youth, it bodes ill for the fundraiser of the year. This Gala was a politburo meeting; the giant photo of mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Lavigne hanging Mao-like above the stage was unhelpful in this respect. Had she not given a lovely and modest acceptance speech for her induction into the Canadian Opera Hall of Fame, our conclusion would have been that we were attending a memorial service to the Dear Leader.

No sets and limited space with the orchestra onstage meant a focus on the singers, so stiff actors like Alexandre Sylvestre could just stand there (and sing wonderfully), while the typically atrocious staging and direction were not able to interfere. Almost.

It happened after the final ovation, on the heels of Julie Boulianne’s (who should consider this sentence a brief but entirely serious marriage proposal) beautifully restrained rendition of “Non piu mesta,” and Marie-Josée Lord’s and Antoine Bélanger’s showstopping “Libiamo”: fake snow dribbled from the rafters as everybody sang “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.”

It was a rabbit punch to my swollen spirits, and as we left the snow-globe, my Standard Opera Companion (Viciously Italian Edition) pulled the champagne cork out with her teeth and muttered, “This is unacceptable.”

Is this the ambition that will sustain Montreal opera?