About 10 years ago, Timothy Vernon saw a play in Edmonton that left a lasting impression.
The beauty of the French language used in the play was close to poetry, he recalled, and the emotional plot was intriguing, with many different layers.
As the founding artistic director of Pacific Opera Victoria, Vernon thought the play — Les Feluettes by Michel Marc Bouchard, would make a great opera, and he wasn’t the only one. An American composer living in Australia saw the Genie-award winning movie (Lilies) made from the play in 1996 and wrote directly to the author, who took it to l’Opera de Montreal to commission.
Eventually Pacific Opera Victoria was invited to co-commission the production, which premiered in Montreal last May after three years of hard work.
“It was a difficult process, but a very rewarding one…I spent a lot of time going back and forth to Montreal,” said Vernon, noting the play is a classic in Quebec. “Everybody knows what it is and everybody admires it. It’s kind of a part of the cultural building blocks in Quebec.”
Les Feluettes revolves around the consequences of a moment in 1912. A group of boys at a Quebec college rehearse Gabriele D’Annunzio’s sensual play The Martydrom of Saint Sebastian. As a devasting love triangle is revealed, one boy dies, one is sent to prison for his murder and a third becomes a bishop. Decades later, the bishop is summoned to the prison to hear the confession of his former classmate. Instead, the prisoners force the bishop to watch as they re-enact the past and finally provoke him to confess what really happened.
The young bishop is very attracted to one of them and jealous of the other, explained Vernon. One boy suppresses his feelings for his friend and turns into an arsonist to unleash his rage.
“It’s a complicated story, but there are wonderful characters involved…In the end it’s a love story. It’s Quebec’s Romeo and Juliet,” said Vernon, adding POV has a bit of a history with Canadian works.
“It’s a universal story with true emotion and a true sense of pushing back against prejudices, which I think is always a good thing.”
The production is directed by Serge Denoncourt with set design by Guillaume Lord and costume design by the late Francois Barbeau. Kevin March weaves a musical tapestry of waltz rhythms, French Canadian folk tunes and the sophisticated lushness of Debussy. Vernon conducts the Victoria Symphony.
Les Feluettes (The Lilies) takes place at the Royal Theatre April 20, 22, 28 at 8 p.m. and April 30 at 2:30 p.m. The opera is performed in French with English surtitles and will be presented at the Edmonton Opera next fall. For tickets call 250-382-1641 or visit pov.bc.ca.