Friday, 27 May 2016


Quebec playwright and icon Michel Marc Bouchard

This is an expanded version of Bugs' interview with Michel Marc Bouchard that originally ran in Daily Xtra on May 17, 2016.

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.
Les Feluettes stars Etienne 
Dupuis and Jean-Michel Richer

The play’s hotly-anticipated opera version makes its historic world premiere at the Opéra de Montréal in May 2016. 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.’”

Les Feluettes stars Etienne Dupuis
and Jean-Michel Richer
(Photo by Yves Renaud)
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.

 Etienne Dupuis and Jean-Michel
Richer rehearse Les Feluettes
(Photo by Richard Burnett)

While young queers figure prominently in plays by Bouchard, such as in his Shaw Festival-commissioned The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt, Bouchard has also made his mark on young artists like filmmaker Xavier Dolan, whose 2013 film Tom at the Farm is based on Bouchard’s play Tom à la ferme. Says Bouchard, “One night Xavier saw my play. He was smoking outside with some actors after the performance and told me, ‘Let’s make a movie!’ Xavier is an extremely gifted artist. There is Xavier the spectacle, and there is Xavier the passionate hard worker, and that is the Xavier I know. I am pleased my work resonates with a younger generation.”

Bouchard was less pleased with his experience scripting the film The Girl King, adapted from his own play about Christina, the lesbian queen who ruled Sweden in the mid-17th century. “It was a long journey,” he says diplomatically.

As for making John Greyson’s film Lilies, Bouchard says he was “fascinated” by the whole experience. “I was happy we made the film, and that we – French and English – did it together.”

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

Bugs meets LGBTQ hero
Michel Marc Bouchard
“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.”

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