Quebec’s Opéra Bouffe

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Prepares to blow its 40th candle!

They are all of different ages and professional backgrounds, but they all share the same passion: Operetta. Everyone has a very special history that led them to the Opéra bouffe du Québec. La Scena Musicale went to meet all the beautiful people who sing there and was able to preview the final preparations for their annual show in November.

It is Wednesday, 7 pm, in the basement of the church of Bon-Pasteur in Laval. The tension is palpable among the thirty volunteer choristers who are preparing to take one of their final rehearsals under the supervision of the artistic and musical director Simon Fournier, director Yvon Bilodeau, and choreographer Monik Vincent. They are set to present the operetta Le Baron Tzigane by Johann Strauss II, November 10–19, at the Maison des Arts in Laval.

This is the culmination of a whole year of preparation for those lovers of singing who, in their own way, find in the OBQ family a school of life, balance, comfort, well-being, pride, and liberation.

“I cannot imagine myself anywhere else! — Suzanne, soprano

She is in her 14th year at the OBQ. It all started for her the night she found herself completely forgetting the atmosphere of disease at her workplace — being a nurse, and at home, her parents needing assistance because of their age. She was completely overwhelmed by the singing and stage play while assisting an open rehearsal of the OBQ to which she had been invited by her colleague, friend and costume designer Diana-Carmen Ratycz. “Diana finally convinced me that it would be healthy for me to have an activity, a moment to me and for me,” she recalls. “This helps to relax and recharge the batteries for facing the tasks of everyday life.” Since then, Suzanne Morcel has not imagined moving anywhere else. Her management skills have enabled her to fulfill both the presidency and administrative duties of the OBQ.

“What good chemistry! — Johanne, alto and Josselin, bass

For their fifth season at the OBQ, Johanne (retired) and Josselin (professional musician) find the same excitement as they found in their first year. For Johanne and Josselin, the collective joy that the operetta affords makes all the difference. “What good chemistry we have, bringing out the best in each member! The way we blend into the overall harmony is so good,” Josselin says. “It’s very different from my solitary work as a musician and singer.”

“That’s what I want to do!” — Marie-Ève, soprano, 16 years old

These were the words that the youngest member of the group exclaimed after the performance of the operetta Les Brigands d’Offenbach by the OBQ in 2015. This young student joined the troupe at age 14. Convinced that the opera is her whole life, Marie-Ève prepares to resume her studies in classical singing at the Conservatoire de Montréal. “These two years at the OBQ have been truly the most beautiful years of my life.” She gratefully acknowledges the warm reception, experience, and above all the encouragement and responsibilities that she’s been entrusted with, which give her confidence to continue to develop her young talent. She recalls that she fell under the charm of opera at the age of 12, having seen the film The Phantom of the Opera. “The day I took the role of Denise in the OBQ production of the operetta Veronica was the best moment of my life,” she adds.

“Our children are proud of us!” — Isabelle, soprano and Sarah, alto

Véronique (2016) Photo: Marie-Andrée Lemire

“The OBQ gathers together everything we love: singing, dancing, costumes, theatre, acting … and it’s great!” For the two long-time friends — Isabelle (a former TV employee, now a housewife) and Sarah (a student in social work), who have shared their love for music since childhood and have evolved together in a small church choir — the group work, the warmth of human relationships and the quality of the performances were the reason they joined the OBQ. With emotion they tell of the happiness that this experience brings to them and their children. “What a joy to see how our children follow our preparations and support us. They love to rehearse with us and often tell us how to say the words better! ‘My Mother sings opera,’ they tell their friends proudly.”

“Singing is good for one’s health.” — Louis-Benoit, baritone

For Louis-Benoit, the therapeutic character of the singing is obvious. He remarks on the feeling of well-being provided by the operetta and by its coupling of theatre and music. “The OBQ offers me a satisfying experience on the stage,” says this theatre lover who, in addition to his natural inclination for singing, loves to play roles. The self-employed translator, who joined the company six years ago, is very fond of the mingling with professionals — soloists, directors, choreographers, musicians — that the OBQ experience allows. “To evolve within this wonderful school is indeed an investment,” he says. At the end of his working day he likes to leave his solitude and go to meet his singing colleagues and share with them moments of art and life. “What better way to socialize!”

“The OBQ is here to stay!”

With this deep conviction, Jacques Paquette, bass, the elder of this “good gang”, as he describes it, starts his 22nd year at the OBQ. For this retiree, former president and current vice-president, “Singing is a liberation. It is almost a vital need.” He loves the family atmosphere at the OBQ, where he has also been in charge of the sets for 15 years. He testifies to the love and appreciation that dozens of choristers have had for the OBQ through the years. “Our payback is the public’s recognition of the quality of our shows,” says Jacques, highlighting the dynamic created by the arrival of Simon Fournier and the exceptional quality of his artistic direction.

Since January 2015 the OBQ has been recognized as a charity, and it regularly awards scholarships to deserving students. Its success is due to the extraordinary involvement of dedicated volunteers who, in addition to singing, manage the company, build sets, make costumes, and organize sponsorships. “People from all walks of life and different professions profit from this experience,” emphasizes president Suzanne Morcel. She puts the accent on the energy that the fresh high-school graduates bring with them.

“The joy of the choristers is linked to their pride in being part of the world of these soloists and the shared journey of preparing a show. It’s the apotheosis of a year of involvement. It has its annoyances and stresses, but more importantly it offers deep joys,” she says, emphasizing the beauty in the succession of generations that ensures the future of singing. “Even if it is more and more difficult to find male voices for choirs.” A word to the wise, gentlemen!

 

Le Baron Tzigane by Johann Strauss II

The Opéra bouffe du Québec presents the operetta Le Baron Tzigane by Johann Strauss II from November 10 to 19, 2017, at the Maison des Arts in Laval. It is in keeping with its mission since 1978, which is to keep alive the great classics of the operetta by bringing them into a modern setting. This new production, signed by artistic and musical director Simon Fournier, Yvon Bilodeau (director), Monik Vincent (choreographer) and Suzanne Morcel (production manager), brings together nine talented Quebec soloists: Ruben Shaym Brutus, Audrey Larose-Zicat, Frédérique Drolet, Éric Thériault, Rachèle Tremblay, Arminè Kassabian, Guillaume Beaudoin, Dominic Lorange and Richard Fréchette, accompanied by the choir and OBQ orchestra, made up of pianist Giancarlo Scalia and twelve professional musicians. Le Baron Tzigane is one of Johann Strauss II’s most popular operettas. This romantic, funny and amusing work in three acts is inspired by stories of conflict, love and jealousy amongst a long-ago band of gypsies in Hungary. www.operabouffe.org

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