Love, loss and consumption

Opera on the Avalon opens ‘La Bohème’ this week

Published on June 10, 2014
Tasha Koontz and Anthony Kalil in a scene from last year’s Opera on the Avalon production of “La Traviata.” Koontz and Kalil are back in the province for the opera company’s summer season, and will star in “La Bohème,” opening Thursday at Holy Heart Theatre in St. John’s. — Submitted photo

You know Puccini’s opera “La Bohème?” Of course you do, even if you’ve never seen it. The inspiration behind the hit musical “Rent” and movie “Moulin Rouge,” it’s a classic tale and the ultimate in sad stories, complete with love, jealousy and a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl (and in this case, girl-dies-of-consumption) theme.

It’s also Opera on the Avalon’s first production of the season, opening Thursday evening at Holy Heart Theatre in St. John’s.

The only professional opera company in Atlantic Canada, Opera on the Avalon was founded five years ago by artistic director Cheryl Hickman, a graduate of New York’s Juilliard School, who said she was frustrated by the lack of opportunities in the province when it came to her favourite art form.

Beginning as a summer festival, Opera on the Avalon has grown into an organization with a year-round presence, bringing in more than 150 artists from around the world to sing, conduct and collaborate. The company holds 12 audition dates in cities across North America every year, with plans to expand into England and Mexico.

About 800 hopefuls from around the world audition each year, and most of these are emerging performers — though “emerging” in the opera world actually means a certain amount of accomplishment.

By the time an opera singer is ready for a professional career, they have more years of study and training behind them than a doctor, Hickman explains.

“This is as good as you will see anywhere, and it’s in your own city; your own backyard,” she says of Opera on the Avalon’s productions.

“These people are coming to see you — go to see them.”

Hickman believes its the world-renowned creative team that entices young performers to audition for the local theatre company. Newfoundland has unique characteristics that attract established composers and directors, she believes, including weather that we might consider lousy, but to some, offers a mysterious, “Wuthering Heights” feel.

A four-act opera, “La Bohème” will star Tasha Koontz and Anthony Kalil (who recently debuted with the Metropolitan Opera), returning to the province and Opera on the Avalon after starring in last year’s production of “La Traviata” together.

Once the run of “La Bohème” ends, a production of Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” based on Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of fairies and mismatched lovers, will begin.

“They are two very different shows, but we try to cover all the bases,” Hickman says. “If you don’t like one, you’ll love the other.

“We promise. Take a chance on this and you’ll love it.”

“La Bohème,” directed by Michael Cavanagh and conducted by Judith Yan, will run June 12-14, while “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Tom Diamond and conducted by Vlad Iftinca, will run June 19-21. Tickets are available at the Holy Heart Theatre box office, by calling 579-4424 or online at

In 2016, Opera on the Avalon will debut their latest commission: “Ours,” written by local playwright Robert Chafe and composed by Juno Award-winning composer John Estacio, based on the story of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury