Arts & Entertainment
2 min

How one play is making opera an extravaganza

Michel Marc Bouchard’s play Les Feluettes makes its operatic debut

Michel Marc Bouchard brings his play Les Feluettes to the opera stage.  Credit: Julie Perreault

Quebec playwright and icon Michel Marc Bouchard casts queer life versus religion, and condemns religion while celebrating queer sexuality in his landmark 1987 play Les Feluettes ou la répétition d’un drame romantique.

Considered one of the major works of modern Canadian theatre, the English-language adaption, Lilies, won the Dora Mavor Moore Award and the Chalmers Award for best play in 1991. Even the film version by John Greyson won the Genie Award for best motion picture in 1996.

And now, Les Feluettes will be coming to a different stage — as an opera.

(Yves Renaud)

Debuting on May 21, 2016, the play’s hotly-anticipated opera version makes its historic world premiere at the Opéra de Montréal. Les Feluettes also garners the distinction of being the first ever French-language opera about a (tragic) gay love story.

After Australian composer Kevin March saw Greyson’s adaptation in 2003, he was inspired to create an opera version. It would be another decade before the Opéra de Montréal commissioned March and Bouchard to create Les Feluettes. The opera stars baritone Etienne Dupuis and tenor Jean-Michel Richer as the two lovers.

Even though Les Feluettes features the character Bilodeau, a repressed young gay man who joins the seminary only to become a closeted Catholic Bishop, Bouchard is adamant that his work is mainly about two men falling in love. “I don’t have a political agenda,” he says. “It was never my goal to pit church and religion against gay life. My dream was to a write a love story. Les Feluettes is like Romeo and Juliet. It is about a man who tells another man, ‘I love you.’”

Bouchard’s work, however, usually does involve the intersection of young queers and religion — two identities that he grew up with in Quebec. “Coming out didn’t exist for me the way it does today,” he says.“When I was 20 years old, I drove from Ottawa to Lac-Saint-Jean and told my parents I was gay because I wanted to be an author. As gay people we learn to live a lie, and I believed a writer had to be honest.” And that honesty benefits a younger generation as well. “Growing up queer is always difficult, which is why I want [young LGBT people] to see themselves in my plays,” he says.

Bouchard, for his part, hopes Les Feluettes is the beginning of a new wave of queer-themed operas.

“Rufus Wainwright is writing Hadrian, then after that it will be us with La Reine-Garçon,” says Bouchard about two new high-profile operas commissioned by the Canadian Opera Company, scheduled for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons respectively.

As for Les Feluettes, Bouchard remains optimistic. “Some days I am scared: Montreal’s opera house seats 3,000 people and opera lovers come to the opera armed with knives in their teeth! But I think the world of opera is ready for our stories. It is historic to see a French opera with a large orchestra where two men fall in love and sing to each other onstage. It has never been done before. We shall soon see if we help raise the glass ceiling.”