John Caird’s 2013 production of Puccini’s La bohème is currently being revived by the Canadian Opera Company with Katherine Carter directing. There are two casts covering the run of ten performances. I saw the second cast in their first performance yesterday.

It’s essentially a straightforward Bohème. We are in Paris in the late 19th century and nothing untoward happens. The nearest thing to a “concept” is that the David Farley’s sets are built from Marcello’s paintings which does add a decorative touch. They are also efficiently designed. Act 1 flows into Act 2 and Act 3 into Act 4 with scarcely a pause. Coupled with Paolo Carignani’s decidedly brisk conducting this brings the work in at around 105 minutes excluding the interval. Sets and costumes, Musetta aside, do look appropriately poverty stricken rather than being presented as something more bourgeois. It’s also an appropriately young cast, so if there are no big ideas, at least the realism is realistic.

The singing and acting is decidedly good, though never reaching the heights needed to make this a truly memorable Bohème. Miriam Khalil is an appealing Mimì. Her acting is convincing and the voice combines power with beauty through most of her range. At the very top of her voice there’s slight steeliness though that’s not ideal. Joshua Guerrero as Rodolfo is also good. He’s got it all except the ability to light up the house with ringing top notes. Both of their big Act 1 arias felt a little under-cooked but things got better as the performance progressed and there was some fine singing by both in the second half of the show. Danika Lorèn is a rather good Musetta. She’s got the flirty, sexy thing in Act 2 but manages to find the pathos in the final scene. She’s also genuinely funny when she needs to be. Önay Köse as Colline, Joel Allison as Schaunard and Andrzej Filończyk as Marcello work well together and they clown effectively where the production calls for that. There’s actually quite a lot of jumping on furniture and so on. On the odd occasions that he really gets to show it, Filończyk has a rich and powerful baritone that I could happily have heard more of.

The COC Chorus was excellent as always and the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus were in their element with members performing a variety of acrobatics on stage in Act 2 as well as providing fine singing and much energetic running around. Carignani’s tempi were generally brisk and his approach to the music seemed to emphasise the dramatic rather than the lyrical (though this impression may have been partly a function of the acoustics where I was sitting). The orchestra backed him up with a full, dramatic sound and some incisive, if perhaps over loud, playing from the brass.

A perfectly serviceable production and the alternate cast does it justice. It’s a good evening/afternoon at the opera but it’s unlikely to stick in the memory as a truly memorable Bohème.