Opera Atelier announced their 2012-2013 season, a revival of Mozart’s Magic Flute and a new production of Weber’s Der Freischütz. This time they’re trying something new.
OA are remarkable in the way they build upon their strengths. Over their quarter of a century of existence, they’ve gradually expanded their repertoire, one opera at a time, but carefully revisiting and improving the operas in that repertoire.
They started with baroque operas. I think Dido and Aeneas was their first.
It’s not as if they’re done every baroque opera, as OA know their strengths. This is not a company foregrounding vocal virtuosity, such as you’d find in Handel’s great operas. They come instead from a wonderful grounding in movement, authentic visuals (their sets & costumes), and period performance in their longtime partnership with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra & Chorus.
They went beyond the baroque to Rococo, taking on Mozart operas. They added the early French baroque operas of Lully & Charpentier—operas especially well-suited to their dance skills—and then the reform operas of Gluck.
It’s long been a matter for debate in the Toronto area just how much of OA’s interpretations can be attributed to historicity and how much to the creative whims of the co-artistic directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, and such collaborators as conductor David Fallis set designer Gerard Gauci, costume designer Martha Mann.
Does it matter? I think people waste a lot of time worrying about academic details. As a long-time fan I believe OA seem more relaxed now, less rigorous than they were in previous decades, and as a result, more fun to watch.
Their latest step is in some ways the biggest yet. The phrase I put in the title comes from the heading OA put on their own press release, where they say “Opera Atelier lays claim to a new period in their 2012-2013 season.“
I don’t believe OA have done any operas written more recently than the latter portion of the 18th century, in other words, during Mozart’s lifetime. This season they’re taking a leap. Of the two operas they’re producing, the earliest –arguably the work that would be safest—is itself one of the two operas from the last months of Mozart’s life, namely The Magic Flute. For a company whose profile was built through historically informed productions of operas from the baroque period, this is a remarkably choice, and newsworthy.
But it’s the romantic opera Der Freischütz that is the real surprise. I can scarcely contain my excitement. Each year as I survey what’s coming up around the world, there’s usually an opera, perhaps two operas that capture my imagination as I eagerly wait for that work to appear. Over the past few years that has often been a Metropolitan Opera high definition broadcast. This season for example, I was waiting for Satyagraha, while last year I wanted to see the two Ring operas from Robert Lepage (and I’m very eager to see the last one this Saturday btw).
Next year? That all pales beside a historically informed Der Freischütz. David Fallis will conduct Tafelmusik orchestra (pardon me of I omit the ephithet “baroque” from the sentence, as I am not sure whether it would even be accurate).
Kresimir Spicer, so adept in the title role of OA’s production of La Clemenza di Tito has a voice I can hear in that heavier repertoire. As usual, however, I am finding myself questioning the assumptions we’ve been handed after the century of Wagnerian music and opera (if we date the historically informed performance movement roughly from the 1970s). Just as performance traditions for Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms were gradually cleansed of that influence (in a move to smaller faster ensembles, and a cleaner sound), perhaps we’ll make comparable discoveries hearing Max (the role Spicer will undertake) or the horrors of the forest glen scene.
Ah yes, I am gleeful imagining what Gauci & Pynkoski will do with that wonderfully fanciful scene of ghosts & demons. I expect that the production will sound and look unlike anything we’ve seen before.
I can’t wait.
Here’s an example of what that can look & sound like.