Coming of Age Stories

With the passage of time, people get older.  The battles that consumed them in their youth are set aside, as they seek stability and begin to contemplate their legacy.  In that gradual coming into focus, frivolity falls by the wayside in favour of meaningful action.

This could be said of Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute,  tenor Colin Ainsworth, who plays Tamino in Opera Atelier’s revival of Mozart’s opera, and also Marshall Pynkoski, artistic director of Opera Atelier & the creative force behind that production.  It’s lovely how uniformly this pattern is being enacted.  And at a time when Toronto seems very conservative to my eye maybe they’re all in the right place at the right time.

At one time Opera Atelier and Pynkoski were the edgy young turks, bringing a brash spirit to historically informed productions of opera.  Often outrageous, never dull, Opera Atelier displayed a sophomoric delight in everything they staged.  They added Mozart operas to their repertoire (that had been mostly baroque masterpieces), always supported by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s warm & gentle sound.

And so, as the years continue to go by, I wonder whether it’s them (changing) or it’s me (aging).  All of us have changed.   I could be wrong, but I suspect Opera Atelier will inherit the disaffected deserters (of whom I have met a few), disillusioned by the high percentage of Regietheater (or “director’s theatre”, productions that overlay so much interpretation that the original work may be hard to discern) from the COC.  While I hope those I spoke of are the exception, it all works to Opera Atelier’s advantage, as they’re no longer radicals, having found the mainstream (or it has found them by default). 

Ainsworth’s Tamino has a wonderful vocal heft to it even though Ainsworth still looks the callow youth onstage.   (and no signs that he or anyone else was holding their voice in reserve for opening night on Saturday).  I saw the same remarkable combination of skills –great voice, physique and acting ability—on display in Against the Grain’s production of The Diary of One Who Disappeared by Leoš Janáček roughly a month ago.  The voice seems effortless, direct, powerful, and seems bigger than ever.

Pynkoski made a pre-show cautionary announcement about the language of the libretto, which indeed drew some astonished responses from the high-school students sitting near me at the dress rehearsal, unprepared for the politically incorrect lingo.

The production is solid from top to bottom, well sung by soloists & chorus, and gorgeously played by Tafelmusik Orchestra, in a tight reading from conductor David Fallis that is above all intelligible, and very musical.

Baritone Olivier LaQuerre (Photo by Helen Tansey)

Olivier LaQuerre’s charming & sensitive Papageno received the lion’s share of the adoration from the wooting masses of teenagers in attendance, although Ambur Braid’s larger than life Queen of the Night, and Carla Huhtanen as Papagena / First Lady were also favourites.  Aaron Ferguson was one of the most dynamic Monostatos’ imaginable, with LaQuerre exploiting the vaudevillian element of the text.  And Pynkoski turned as he so often does to Curtis Sullivan, as the role of the Speaker is expanded to become the straight man dogging Papageno on his initiation in the second act.

The sense that the company and its artistic director have come of age begins with Pynkoski’s marvelous program note, where he addresses the whole question of revivals, and how we are thereby transformed.



Opera Atelier’s revival of The Magic Flute opens Saturday night at the Elgin Theatre, running until the following weekend.   For details and ticket information, please click.


I realize — the morning after– that i allude to something without explaining myself, namely the program note. Last night during intermission i had just read this when a friend accosted me, and i had to literally compose myself, as i’d been very moved by what i had read. Follow this link and go to “Message from the Co-Artistic Directors”

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1 Response to Coming of Age Stories

  1. 22 years ago I was new to Toronto. I’d tried a COC production and my reaction was “dear God, is this the best Canada’s largest city can do?” I’d seen some touring productions of “straight” theatre; notably Michael Bogdanov’s Henry V and Branagh’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and seen Toronto audiences react with incomprehension and hostility. I was wondering what kind of hick town I’d ended up in. Then I saw OA’s Magic Flute. It was fresh. It was inventive. It was theatre. For a decade or more I saw everything they did; at first with great enjoyment and the sense that the city had something different and vibrant. Maybe our traditional opera company was third rate but we had one of the best HIP outfits anywhere. But then a gradual sinking feeling set in as each production increasingly resembled the last. I drifted away and was happy to discover a revitalised COC in its gorgeous new home. It doesn’t surprise me though that a section of the audience has gone the other way. It’s Thursday, it’s chips and egg.
    I may go see this Flute; partly out of nostalgia as my son is in town on a rare visit and we first saw it together when he was almost too young for Magic flute, partly to see what Ambur makes of QotN. But I fear the magic has gone; at leat for me.

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