Pacific Opera: Les Feluettes • April 20–30
Composer Kevin March, as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan 15 years ago, found inspiration in a screening of Lilies, a 1997 film directed by John Greyson. “Maybe five minutes into the film, I felt like I wasn’t watching a film, I felt like I was watching an opera that wasn’t being sung,” the award-winning Australian said in a recent interview with the Montreal Gazette. “It was so easy to hear every word being sung, to see the characters as operatic characters, to imagine the scenes on the stage.”
March, a self-avowed francophile, revelled in taking on the task of creating the sung version of this melodramatic story that had already been both a play (by Canadian Michel Marc Bouchard) and a film, set in a Quebec prison in the early half of the 20th Century.
The musical style of Les Feluettes is, in March’s parlance, “eclectic.” The opera-within-an-opera is set in France, at “the height of the emergence of ragtime, so I quote Scott Joplin,” along with cabaret song, Debussy’s incidental music for Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, and French folk music.
“Feluette” (lily) is Quebec slang for “effeminate man,” having its etymologic root in the word fluet, meaning “thin and frail in appearance.” The all-male cast, who, as inmates in the prison, play both female and male characters, are re-enacting episodes in the life of a Roman Catholic bishop who is watching an opera-within-an-opera— unwillingly—from a locked confessional. A major theme is the forbidden, homosexual bond between two schoolboys in 1912.
“The story is about love and loss and tragedy and triumph,” says March. “It is a grand, epic romance in the tradition of La Bohème, Tosca, and Romeo and Juliet. People are kept apart by the forces that surround them. It just so happens that the characters are same-sex. But of course there are people who are going to see two men in these roles and think of it primarily as a ‘gay’ opera.” Arthur Kaptainis of the Montreal Gazette, reviewing the world premiere of the work, which was co-commissioned by Pacific Opera Victoria and Opéra de Montréal, exclaimed, “There was not a moment in the unfolding of the central romantic story that seemed less than universal.”
Les Feluettes runs April 20, 22, 28, 8pm; April 30 at 2:30pm. In French with English surtitles. Pre-performance talk one hour before curtain. Tickets $25-$135, 250-385-0222 or www.pov.bc.ca.