A fiery love triangle: Les feluettes at Edmonton Opera Zachary Read (left) and Jean-Michel Richer in Les feluettes, Edmonton Opera, 2017. Photo: Nanc Price.

A fiery love triangle: Les feluettes at Edmonton Opera

Oliver Munar

Imagine your favourite opera. Chances are, the plot likely has an all-consuming love at the centre of it.

Imagine, then, that it’s not just two characters experiencing this all-consuming love, but rather three. This is opera: you need drama and conflict to make it interesting.

Now here’s the twist: all your main characters are men.

To open its 2017-18 season, Edmonton Opera presents the Canadian opera Les Feluettes (Lilies), an adaptation of the play by Michel Marc Bouchard with music by Kevin March. Co-commissioned by Pacific Opera Victoria and Opéra de Montréal, it is a bold choice depicting a gay love triangle between Jean Bilodeau, Simon Doucet, and the titular “feluette”, the young, nubile Count Vallier de Tilly. The premiere drew a healthy group of admirers, including both the librettist and composer, who watched this play within a play within a play unfold at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, Saturday evening.

Set at a Quebec prison in 1952, guards pace about the stage silently as opera patrons take their seats. And when the opera begins, we learn of the roots of the conflict: an all-consuming love Bilodeau (now a bishop, played by tenor Gordon Gietz) harboured for Simon Doucet (a prisoner, played by baritone Gino Quilico). Doucet enlists his fellow inmates to reenact the events leading to Doucet’s incarceration.

Jean-Michel Richer (left) and Zachary Read in Les feluettes. Photo: Nanc Price, Edmonton Opera, 2017.

The tandem of tenor Jean-Michel Richer and baritone Zachary Read make this production of Les Feluettes a sizzling feast for the senses. In his debut as the younger Simon Doucet, baritone Zachary Read oozes fiery passion and sensuality as the man in the middle of the love triangle. His smooth, vibrant voice captures the essence of a young man struggling with his sexuality. Read shows incredible range for his character: vulnerable when he is beaten, hardened to his relationship with his father, distant to his relationship with Lydie-Anne de Rozier, and passionate when he accepts his truth.

Tenor Jean-Michel Richer embodies the innocence of Count Vallier de Tilly. More comfortable with his sexuality than the other two members of the love triangle, Richer’s soaring tenor pierces the auditorium with a panoply of emotion: love, regret, sadness and desire. Richer debuted the role with Opéra de Montréal in 2016 and is a standout performer in this production.

Two other standouts include men who depicted female characters. As the aristocratic Lydie-Anne de Rozier, Daniel Cabena is a countertenor of the highest quality: a rich, vibrant higher register with the depth of the lower registers. De Rozier is a pathological liar, at first for personal gain but also to spare the feelings of the Countess. Cabena offers poignant scenes as a woman in love with a man who is in love with another.

Gordon Gietz (left), Gino Quilico, and Zachary Read (background) in Les feluettes. Photo: Nanc Price, Edmonton Opera, 2017.

Baritone Dominique Côté’s virtuosic depiction of the Countess is a full spectrum of emotion and versatility. Dismissed as crazy, the Countess shows moments of lucidity and clarity that Côté offers masterfully. In particular, Côté’s scenes in the second act, after we learn of how the Countess and her son came to be left alone, are quite rich and poignant.

As the third member of the love triangle, tenor James McLennan offers a stunning performance as the younger Bilodeau. Relegated to the sidelines as the relationship between Simon and Vallier develops, McLennan convincingly depicts his character as pained and desperate in his longing for Simon. McLennan’s voice shimmers especially when he prays for guidance when faced with the threat of losing Simon forever.

Rounding out the dramatic personage are Gino Quilico as the present-day Doucet, and Gordon Gietz as the present-day Bishop Bilodeau. Quilico’s robust baritone is tinged with strength and conviction. Gietz shines as the elder Bilodeau, a man who has been burdened with his own lies for many years.

Kevin March’s score is a tour de force: truly sensitive and theatrical. It was tender and loving when it needed to be, with subtle dissonances that hint of the conflict lurking in the shadows. The score magnificently plays homage to the musical language of Debussy and other great French composers of the early 20th century.

Edmonton Opera offers a fiery production that ignites the imagination with sizzling drama and characters. A Canadian masterpiece, Les Feluettes has two more performances October 24 and 27 at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton. Note that there are scenes of partial nudity.

For details and ticket information for Les Feluettes, follow our box office links below.

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