Opera Atelier Abduction from the Seraglio

I had a wonderful time at the dress rehearsal for Opera Atelier’s new Abduction from the Seraglio.  It’s a remount but as usual they probed more deeply this time, accentuating the comic elements of the work.  Anyone who’s seen this opera expects to laugh in certain places, such as Osmin’s aria where he speaks of hanging or in Pedrillo’s serenade.  Without giving anything away –and spoiling the laughs—let’s just say that Marshall Pynkoski makes you laugh in places you wouldn’t expect to laugh.

This is a company with some claim to authenticity in terms of its use of period dance, movement, singing and an orchestra playing a historically informed style, yet this production is clearly meant for a modern audience, as seen in surtitles referencing “shagging” and “getting it on”

Pynkoski addressed misconceptions in a recent interview:

We are eager for people to understand that Opera Atelier is not a museum and our productions are not artefacts. A period production is simply an opportunity for us to challenge ourselves in a new way as artists in the 21st century. We explore the aesthetics of other eras and cultures in order to help us look to the future. Our recent production of Lucio Silla for the Salzburg Festival was greeted as one of the most radical productions to take place in Salzburg for decades.

A period production is the new avant-garde of the 21st century.

Opera Atelier make marvellous use of their dance troupe during comical set-pieces.   And so we see baroque dancers brandishing instruments of torture.  We see a farcical kidnapping enacted during the overture.

I was struck by an absurdly ironic thought tonight.  Opera Atelier use ballet more than one might expect.  Across town, the Canadian Opera Company seem to avoid using dance even in works –for instance their recent Aida—where one would expect to see dance.  Otherwise their repertoire seems to deliberately avoid any grand operas that include ballet.  Of course dance is expensive: even when you happen to have dance personnel in your company.

It’s a funny town.

I keep harping on a theme that obsesses me.  Those who show up with stipulations—especially the critics—will miss what’s right in front of them.  So maybe it’s true that Marshall & his choreographer co-artistic director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg give us dance in unexpected places, and more than we might expect (and more than some people might like).  But it’s often in the service of the comedy or the story-telling, and always in step (excuse the pun) with the score.

Singing in German with English dialogue, the cast was strong throughout.  Lawrence Wiliford is a wonderfully elegant Belmonte, contrasted by the likeable comedy of Adam Fisher as his sidekick Pedrillo.  Gustav Andreassen as Osmin & Curtis Sullivan as Pasha Selim are a formidable pair, who manage to be intimidating but never too scary.  Andreassen is physically and vocally a wonderful clown, while Sullivan’s Pasha has the requisite dignity that we want to see, particularly in the last scene.

Soprano Carla Huhtanen (photo: Tobin Grimshaw)

Soprano Carla Huhtanen (photo: Tobin Grimshaw)

Carla Huhtanen always impresses me with her fluid voice, never off pitch even in a dress rehearsal, this time including an interpolated high note somewhere near Earth orbit.  She’s an artist of range & intelligence (often appearing with Talisker players or last month in Tapestry Briefs), and usually my favourite in whatever she does.

But Huhtanen had competition tonight, admittedly in a role where one expects fireworks.  Ambur Braid’s Konstanze met the challenges of her role in an unexpected way.  There’s the big aria “Martern aller Arten” for example, where one sometimes sees a singer gamely struggle.  Not only did Braid make it look easy (although  we should also credit conductor David Fallis in the pit for supporting his singers so perfectly that they’re easy to hear), but of course Pynkoski & Zingg make this hysterically funny.  I won’t say how.  Sometimes we’re watching overdone romance, a young woman in tears for her missing BF, sometimes we’re watching her defy her scary captors.  It’s wonderfully funny, owing much to Braid’s comic gift, which we saw amply displayed last year in Die Fledermaus.  Yes Braid can sing, but she’s very smart and never dull.

So naturally it’s another wonderful Opera Atelier production, opening Saturday.  The singers are good, Tafelmusik sounds ravishing throughout under David Fallis, and the ballet is charming.

I want to see it again.  Click the picture for information.

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