Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of four girls growing up in post-civil war America, has been adapted to theatrical plays and movies, and now McGill will bring the operatic version to Montreal for the first time. Performed and teched (almost) entirely by students at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, the opera is an exciting undertaking for all involved.
Originally premiered in 1998 with a libretto and score by Mark Adama, the Little Women opera quickly became popular in the United States with performances given by several progressive opera companies, many university music programs, and a televised presentation in 2000. It has since gone on to be shown internationally in Japan, Australia, and had its Canadian premier with the Calgary Opera. I was lucky enough to be invited to a dress rehearsal of Opera McGill’s upcoming production, opening November 7.
Focusing on Jo and her struggle to come to terms with her sisters getting married and leaving, as well as being courted herself, the opera is a lovely piece. Cinematic in its production, often staged with several vignettes depicting multiple scenes at once, there is often a lot going on, but it works. Expertly conducted by Christopher Larkin, the same man who premiered the show in 1998, the score is also reminiscent of the cinema, using repeating motifs that tie the story together, satisfying the audience. Although a little atonal, once you let the music wash over you, it all comes together. There are a few lovely arias throughout for both the women and men and the harmonies for the four sisters are gorgeous.
I saw the rehearsal for the opening night cast. Featuring Kaylee Gallagher as Jo, she was energetic and tomboyish in a way that you would expect, and fulfilled what most would consider a demanding role, being onstage for almost the entire production. Chelsea Rus, Lauren Woods, Simone McIntosh were all lovely as Beth, Amy, and Meg, but Chelsea stood out to me as particularly strong amongst all the sisters. Brooke is played by Bruno Roy, who also is competing at the Canadian Opera Competition: a prestigious event on the same level with its counterpart at the Met in the States. Another stand out for me was Igor Mostovoi who played Bhaer that evening. The cast as a whole, however, was all very strong and worked together well.
One other notable thing for this show is to remember that it is almost entirely student performed and produced with the exception of the stage direction, music conducting, and costuming. This is a huge learning experience for all involved and I thought they did an excellent job.
Little Women will be presented November 5-8 at 7:30 pm at the Schulich School of Music (555 Sherbrooke West) in Salle Pollack Hall. You can buy your tickets HERE. $17-28. Montreal Rampage readers can get a 2-f0r-1 discount by entering this promo code: RAMPAGE.