Review | Strong Cast Makes OdM’s Reine-garçon Worth Hearing

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Opéra de Montréal’s production of La Reine-garçon showed how important a strong cast can be to carry a contemporary opera, especially when its story of female empowerment and self-determination resonates with contemporary subject matter.


Based on true events, the opera is set in 17th-century Sweden where after years of war, reigning monarch Queen Christine has brought peace and art and philosophy to her land. Now, she is expected to marry and produce an heir, but she deflects a multitude of suitors. Her secret is that she is in love with Countess Ebba Sparre, her lady-in-waiting. The story is about the individual’s right to self-determination as we see Christine navigate the pressures to wed, the intrigue to separate her from her lover and her ultimate abdication which allows her to leave her position while pillaging the riches of her country.

Joyce El-Khoury (Christine) & Isaiah Bell (Count Johan Oxenstierna). Photo: Vivien Gaumand

It’s an uplifting tale of female empowerment and it’s no coincidence that the Opéra de Montréal scheduled it in February to coincide with International Women’s Day. The opera’s co-producer, the Canadian Opera Company, has followed the lead by scheduling it for February 2025.

The opera is based on playwright Michel Marc Bouchard’s 2012 play Christine, La Reine-Garçon. Bouchard has been a regular with the Opera de Montreal with Les Feluettes (2016) and La beauté du monde (2022) previously premiered in Montreal. Initially, this was commissioned by the Canadian Opera Company, but Opera de Montreal became the lead producer in 2018 after the COC’s Executive Director Alexander Neef left for the Opéra de Paris. See interview in Le Devoir.


The music is composed by Canadian Julien Bilodeau, whose previous credits at Opéra de Montréal include Another Brick in the Wall (2017) and La beauté du monde (2022). Bilodeau’s style has improved and there are shades of Poulenc’s 1956 opera Dialogue of the Carmelites. Unfortunately, there are moments of cliche as in the screeching Act I laments from Marie-Éléonore de Brandebourg, Christine’s hated mother. Unlike Carmelites, there are no memorable arias for the listener to hum on the way home, no earworm winners here, although there are sequences where you can hear the melodies trying to go places it doesn’t quite reach.


Opéra de Montréal assembled a world class lineup of Canadian singers which sustained audience attention throughout. Soprano Joyce El-Khoury took the lead as Queen Christine and infused the role with the drama and anguish it needed, but she tended to over sing and the vocal lines didn’t always bloom. Baritone Etienne Dupuis gave a warm account as Count Karl Gustav, cousin to the Queen and persistent suitor, who ends up inheriting the throne.

Joyce El-Khoury (Christine) & Etienne Dupuis (Karl Gustav). Photo: Vivien Gaumand

Joyce El-Khoury (Christine) & Etienne Dupuis (Karl Gustav). Photo: Vivien Gaumand

Baritone Daniel Okulitch sang the Chancellor with authority. Tenor Éric Laporte was a strong Descartes. Soprano Aline Kutan made the most of Christine’s hysterical mother. Tenor Isaiah Bell offered comic relief as the frustrated arrogant suitor Count Johan Oxenstierna. The production’s surprise was mezzo Pascale Spinney’s multi-layered portrayal as Countess Ebba Sparre. Alain Coulombe rounded off the strong cast with his strong bass as the Assistant to Descartes. Special mention to soprano Anne-Marie Beaudette for her backstage high siren vocals. The OdM Chorus were well prepared by pianist Claude Webster.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducted the Montreal Symphony in a spirited reading. Anick La Bissonnière’s sets were decidedly stark and the falling snow at the opening was a nice touch. Éric Champoux’s lighting was dark and dingy. The use of Alexandre Desjardins’s projections worked well. Angela Konrad’s staging was well blocked considering the wide opened space she had to work with, although the attempted rape sequence at the beginning between Gustav and Christine seemed gratuitous.


Librettist: Michel Marc Bouchard. Composer: Julien Bilodeau. Conductor: Jean-Marie Zeitouni. Stage director: Angela Konrad. Set design: Anick La Bissonnière. Video: Alexandre Desjardins. Costumes: Sébastien Dionne. Lighting: Éric Champoux. Soundtrack: Architectures from silence (aka Martin Bédard). With Isaiah Bell (Johan Oxenstierna), Alain Coulombe (Descartes’ assistant), Étienne Dupuis (Karl Gustav), Joyce El-Khouri (Christine), Aline Kutan (Marie-Éléonore de Brandebourg), Éric Laporte (René Descartes), Daniel Okulitch (Axel Oxenstierna), Pascale Spinney (Ebba Sparre), Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Opéra de Montréal Chorus. A coproduction of Opéra de Montréal and the Canadian Opera Company, presented in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts, February 3, 6, 8 and 11m, 2024.

Performance reviewed: Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024

The opera will be performed at the Canadian Opera Company on January 31, February 2, 5, 7, 9, 13, and 15, 2025:


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