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La Bohème adaptation bringing opera to Banff Legion

Toronto-based arts organization Against the Grain Theatre and Banff Centre presents the opera classic, La Bohème, at the Banff Legion.

BANFF – From an adaptation of the 18th century Italian opera classic, La Bohème by composer Giacomo Puccini, Toronto-based arts organization Against the Grain Theatre is teaming up with Banff Centre to bring opera to the Banff Legion.

Originally performed in Italian, Against the Grain translated the opera classic for English audiences and adapted it for modern day audiences, as on this tour it is being performed in a bar rather than a grandiose opera hall.

“It’s about these poor artists choosing their art over grown up choices and you kind of see two relationships. One of them, who they kind of break up, get back together, break up, get together and then another couple who falls in love and it’s kind of love at first sight,” said Joel Ivany, Against the Grain Theatre’s artistic director and artistic director of opera at the Banff Centre.

La Bohème follows the budding relationship of Mimì and Rudolfo, who fall in love instantly, contrasted by the tumultuous and unsteady love of Musetta and Marcello.

Furthermore, La Bohème also illustrates the life of an artist. Each character is a struggling artist trying to navigate the world around them while also balancing the ups and downs of relationships.

“With this specific story, it’s not much of a takeaway like moral lesson at the end. I think it’s a really beautiful picture into the lives of artists and what is true for a lot of artists. Low income, having to rely on your friends just to get by,” said Danika Lorèn, who plays Musetta. 

With Against the Grain Theatre celebrating its 10th anniversary, the company is touring Canadian bars and Legion halls performing La Bohème, which was one of its first productions. The opera tour with a cast comprised of mostly Banff Centre alumnus, will be commencing its tour at the Banff Legion and continuing East.

“The first show we ever did was in a bar and we were just overwhelmed by the response of people being in a very comfortable place for them – a bar. Being able to drink, but then also to listen to some classical music,” Ivany said.

Although a bar may be an unexpected venue for an opera, the two complement one another to create an intimate setting for audience members, said Lorèn.

“I think whenever you get the audience up close and personal, it just brings another layer of electricity and energy because they can see the spit coming out of your mouth and feel the vibrations of your voice,” Lorèn said.

“Another huge difference is you can act with your face more, which is really nice because you can make more subtle choices in a smaller space that in a bigger opera house you just wouldn’t see.”

Performing in a bar setting also breaks down some of those stereotypes associated with opera. Since opera was traditionally an artform meant for the upper class, even as it entered the modern era, some of those stereotypes came along as well.

“I think with this tour specifically what people will take is that opera can exist outside all of the fanciness and the things that can seem really alienating about opera, when you take it out of the big theatre, it’s just more accessible,” Lorèn said.

For Ivany, he hopes to open up opera to all kinds of audiences and with Against the Grain Theatre partnering with Banff Centre and other arts organizations across Canada, he said that this is a step closer to that.

Sticking close to Against the Grain’s mandate, Ivany continuously challenges the status quo within the world of opera.

“Our mandate now is to create and introduce communities to outside the box opera experiences. Something like this where we’re driving across Canada putting up this show in bars, certainly fills that mandate and we hope in some ways just sparks some new thoughts and energies as we share this opera along the way.”

Against the Grain Theatre’s tour of La Bohème kicks off at the Banff Legion on Friday (Sept. 27) at 7:30 p.m. and will continue to make its way towards the East Coast.