Is there room for another opera body in Montreal? The premiere of the opera The Laughing Man – adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo – by Airat Ichmouratov on Wednesday evening at the Salle Claude-Champagne unequivocally brings a positive response.

One could take Marc Boucher for a dreamer. The director of the Nouvel Opéra Métropolitain, the new lyrical division of the Festival Classica, based in Montérégie, has however shown over the years that he is capable of fulfilling his mission.

Presenting three unknown operas – including two premieres – in two weeks is obviously a challenge. But Boucher first plays it safe. No staging, therefore no costumes (except for the brief operetta L’adorable Belboul by Massenet, next Tuesday). Opera in a “thin” formula, but not a rickety thinness, because we still have a large orchestra on stage, a 20-voice choir (in the side balconies) and a visual dressing that balances nothing everything (a simple opera concert version) and real sets.

An important element (it is not stressed often enough), we are in the presence of a real libretto. Not a poetic-aesthetic thing. Real characters in flesh and blood, as Hugo has the secret. But the poet and novelist Bertrand Laverdure still had to condense it all and give it a scenic meaning, which is quite a feat. How many have achieved the same with great novels of the same type?

How do you describe in a few words a new work that is about 150 minutes long? It must first be emphasized that Ichmouratov is in no way an experimental composer. He creates in the tonal system as we find it in Puccini and Prokofiev, that is to say a frank tonality using dissonance wisely, without shocking the ear too much.

Musically, perhaps the most interesting moments are when the orchestra speaks alone. It must be said that the composer, a seasoned conductor, knows this beast. Vocally, we are in a great lyricism which leaves a lot of room for the voice to flourish, without the orchestra taking over the singers.

There are the occasional effects that some might call “easy”, “Hollywood” – one thinks of the air of Fibi (sung by soprano Sophie Naubert), of a comforting lyricism. But Ichmouratov is distinguished by the art of creating climates. We are less in the Wagnerian “durchkomponiert” (a work in one piece with a kind of continuous song) than in the great tradition of the opera with numbers, as we still find it in a certain way in the 20th century in a Puccini, for example.

The composer creates an original dressing for each number (mainly arias, with some duets and larger ensembles). Each arrival of Lord David (sung by tenor Antonio Figueroa) thus underlines his show-off side, the orchestra bursting into sarcasm.

Only downside to the stage experience: the absence of surtitles. Even if there is nothing wrong with the diction of the singers, the higher voices are naturally more difficult to understand. It was therefore necessary to know the story well to fully appreciate the evening.

Everything could have been integrated into the projections created by Lumifest on the run. These alternate between less than a dozen winter scenes marked by loneliness (the human being is absent) and decay (misery is a central theme of the novel). Semi-static paintings (we only see the snow falling or the light flickering), but which still allow you to immerse yourself inexpensively in each scene.

One thinks of the three baritones, the one (almost too) athletic, by Jean-François Lapointe (Barkilphedro), soft by Hugo Laporte (adult Gwynplaine) and clearer, more “French”, by Marc Boucher (Ursus).

Same with women. The ear never confuses the three light sopranos Magali Simard-Galdès (Dea), Sophie Naubert (Fibi) and Janelle Lucyk (Gwynplaine enfant). The first voice is rounder, fruitier, than that of Naubert, more on “metal”, while Lucyk, from the choir, sings in a white voice.

Mezzo-soprano Florence Bourget (Duchesse Josiane) and tenor Antonio Figueroa (Lord David) complete the cast of this show, which was greatly applauded by the public, which almost filled the Salle Claude-Champagne.

We can only hope that this is not the only representation of the work, a fate too often reserved for contemporary creation…