A brilliant Starmania at the Grand Théâtre

Photo: Shirley Nadeau

 The soloists, dancers and choristers of Starmania take their final bows at the Grand Theâtre. 

After an absence of eight years, Starmania opera, the lyrical version of the most popular rock opera in Quebec entertainment history, returned to Quebec City’s Grand Théatre from July 30 to August 4. With a cast selected from the best of current opera singers, it is the featured work in this year’s Festival de l’Opéra de Québec. 

The “rock” has been removed from this production, however, as the Orchestre symphonique de Québec (OSQ), directed by Simon Leclerc, accompanies this operatic version.  

The original rock version of Starmania, with words by Québécois lyricist and producer Luc Plamondon, set to music by French composer Michel Berger (1947-1992), was presented for the first time in Paris in 1979, and in Montreal in 1980.   

Starmania tells the story of the struggles of two young lovers, Marie-Jeanne and Ziggy, as they fight the tyranny of the star system. Good and evil clash as the inhabitants of the futuristic city of Monopolis, the capital of the Western World, struggle with the corruption that surrounds them and fight to overcome the solitude of a society saturated by entertainment and media. 

Marie-Josée Lord (soprano) is Marie-Jeanne, the beleaguered barmaid at the Underground Café who loves Ziggy, an ambitious music dealer played by Pascal Charbonneau (tenor), who we saw at the Grand Théâtre last October as Tamino in The Magic Flute. 

Étienne Dupuis (baritone) is the charismatic Johnny Rockfort, head of the Étoiles Noir (Black Stars), a street gang that is terrorizing Monopolis.

Pretty Raphaëlle Paquette (soprano) portrays Cristal, the host and star of a television show called Starmania, who falls in love with Johnny Rockfort and switches to the dark side. She is introduced to Johnny by Sadia, played by Krista De Silva (soprano).

Finally, we have Marc Hervieux (tenor), who incarnates Zero Janvier, a power-thirsty billionaire running for the presidency of the Western World whose office sits atop a 100-storey skyscraper. 

Hervieux seems to be channelling Donald Trump in this role, or did Plamondon foresee that something like this might happen some 40 years after the original script was written? In a recent interview with Le Soleil, Plamondon said, “If we had put a blond wig on Hervieux, he would be Donald Trump.”

Of course, Trump, er ... Janvier needs a love interest too, and who better to portray his wife, Stella Stardust, than Lyne Fortin, one of the most popular sopranos in Canada and Europe. 

Things come to a dramatic head in Naziland (yes … Naziland) when Cristal is shot by Zero Janvier’s men when they are hunting down Rockfort and his gang, and she dies in Johnny’s arms. It’s an opera after all, someone has to die tragically. 

The entire production was very dark, with black backgrounds and spotlights shining  on individual singers and dancers throughout the production. Fabric sets rose and descended and moved sideways, and furniture and mobile staircases were moved around by the choristers and dancers in the production. 

All of the Étoiles Noirs were dressed in black, of course. Cristal was pretty in pink at the beginning of the the show, but soon switched to black as she changed her allegiance from Zero to Johnny. 

In the final scene, Marie-Jeanne (Lord) is dressed in a bright yellow dress that matches the rising sun projected on the backdrop behind her. Fed up with the underground world, she heads off in search of a brighter day, singing “Stone, le monde est stone.” Or is it a rock....?  

Having seen the original rock version of Starmania in Paris in 1993, this writer was at first rather surprised to hear the songs performed by lyrical voices backed by a symphony orchestra, but as the evening progressed, grew to enjoy the operatic production. 

Kudos to members of the OSQ and maestro Leclerc for their solid musical leadership. And thanks to the Opéra de Québec and its general and artistic director, Grégoire Legendre, for bring this Québécois masterpiece back to the stage in Quebec City.