Opera Atelier & Glimmerglass to collaborate

Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, upcoming in April 2011, stars Measha Brueggergosman, Michael Miniaci and Krešimir Špicer.

Opera Atelier‘s announcement of their 2011-2012 season included some interesting news:

  • two operas to be produced in Toronto
  • a new partnership with The Glimmerglass Festival

Who are these people and why would they want to work together?

Opera Atelier:

  • call themselves “Canada ’s premier baroque opera/ballet company, producing opera, ballet and drama from the 17th and 18th centuries”.
  • have a regular season in Toronto, with occasional tours outside the country, and have been in existence since 1985

Glimmerglass Festival identify themselves as

  • “a professional non-profit summer opera company dedicated to producing new productions each season. The company’s mission is to produce new, little-known and familiar operas and works of music theater in innovative productions which capitalize on the intimacy and natural setting of the Alice Busch Opera Theater; to promote an artistically-challenging work environment for young performers; and to engage important directors, designers and conductors who provide high standards of achievement.”
  • Glimmerglass have a summer season each year in July & August, and have been in existence since 1975.

Perhaps each company benefits from this collaboration.  The plan they’ve announced calls for the usual Opera Atelier season, including a co-production.  That co-production would be premiered during the winter OA season, in April 2012, then taken to Glimmerglass’s home for their 2012 summer season.  OA would get exposure & money, while Glimmerglass would get a very different kind of repertoire & experience for their audience.

The opera for the co-production is Armide by Jean-Baptiste Lully.  OA have already produced Armide before.  Glimmerglass participation will allow OA to do a more elaborate production, or in the words of the OA press release “The Glimmerglass Festival’s participation has enabled Opera Atelier to add major design elements to Armide making it the most sumptuous production in OA history.”

The Glimmerglass audience are in for a treat.  Armide, which was given it’s North American premiere in OA’s previous production is a work that deserves to be better known.  Lully’s style represents the perfect vehicle for OA, a company who sometimes seem more like a ballet company than an opera company.  They are so consumed with issues pertaining to movement, physical beauty and youth, that they are shockingly unlike what most people associate with opera. They look good, stunningly good.  Lully, who was originally “Giovanni Baptista Lulli” from Italy until he changed his name, became Louis XIV’s ballet master.  Ballet and dance runs through his operas in a way that is surprising to those who only know grand opera from the 19th Century. As a result, the operas of Lully –with their obsessive interest in dance– are the perfect vehicle to show off the abilities of Opera Atelier.

OA employ a style that is historically informed.  They do their homework, they understand the traditions and styles from the periods they are producing.  The singing, movement, dance, costumes, sets, and perhaps most importantly, the orchestral sound, are all appropriate to the time that the work was first created.  Yet OA do not slavishly imitate those periods.  There are modern elements too.

I expect OA to make a big splash at Glimmerglass.

The other opera from OA next season will be a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I find this very exciting, considering how wonderful their DG was last time.  They bring the most authentic commedia dell’arte ideas to this opera that I have ever seen, changing the opera substantially.  The opera that people think they know –with the romantic Don—is not what Mozart created.

As OA co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski explained (from the stage during the last production) Don Giovanni is a species of the capitano character type, based on the Roman miles gloriosus.  If you’ve seen A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum you know a bit about this character type, although the one we get in Sondheim’s musical is different from what Mozart & Da Ponte created.  The point is, Don Giovanni is a bully and a braggart, who needs to be seen as a comical character in his own right, rather than as the noble and/or tragic soul we get in the more romantic readings.  As a result, much of the gravitas we’ve been always taught to expect in this opera is dispelled in a puff of comical smoke.

In the meantime – as the second part of the 2010-2011 season—I am eagerly looking forward to the first period production in North America of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito APRIL 22 – MAY 1, 2011 at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto.

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