The season of Thanksgiving continues, as I feel extraordinarily blessed for the wonderful day I am having. Not only did I have my three best nights in the theatre since the beginning of October (two performances of Falstaff and one of Madama Butterfly, all from the Canadian Opera Company), the concert I experienced today, again hosted by the COC, was unquestionably the best I’ve seen all year. My head is full of so many thoughts, forgive me if I write about this at length.
Talk about lucky. The media preview for the new Art Gallery of Ontario show Michaelangelo: Quest for Genius was this morning at 10 a.m. From there I walked to the Four Seasons Centre, the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre for what was ostensibly listed as part of the “DANCE SERIES” of the COC’s free noonhour concerts. That might explain why I didn’t see any opera colleagues in attendance. There was perhaps five minutes of dance, and forty minutes of opera, plus five minutes of Marshall Pynkoski explaining his dramaturgical concept of Handel’s opera. And whereas RBA concerts are usually voice + piano standing still, this concert was almost completely staged, making more use of the space than I’ve seen before.
Don’t get me wrong, I love dance (I was the one who showed up right?). But this was a profound pleasure. Theories notwithstanding, Pynkoski mostly let his singers do the talking, to demonstrate his points. He laid out a concept for Alcina that I find very compelling, and reminds me a lot of what we’ve seen from him and Opera Atelier, in the Mozart operas. I hope I have the words right for what the form to which he compared this opera in his introduction, something like a “variety show”. I am sure he’ll explain this again when the show opens. But make no mistake, this is really original.
Watching today’s performance I was reminded of Pynkoski’s recent productions of Don Giovanni, Abduction from the Seraglio and Der Freischütz. He’s differentiating female characters in tone & class, setting up parallel romantic plots where the sub-plot is much lighter in tone. Pynkoski has a real knack for comedy, bringing it sometimes to scenes where one wouldn’t expect to find it.
It’s unfortunate that Carla Huhtanen, who usually plays the comic sparkplug role for Opera Atelier, won’t be in Alcina. But just as she was a very bawdy, hysterically funny Blondie (Abduction from the Seraglio), Zerlina (Don Giovanni ) and Ännchen (Der Freschütz), what I see here is that Pynkoski is bringing out the mischievous side of the character of Morgana, played today by Mireille Asselin. In her arias “O s’apre al riso” and “Tornami a vaheggiar” Asselin shows off a spectacular knack for coloratura, all while being a comedienne.
Asselin had lots of competition for the laughs & applause however, and by that I mean, other stunning performances. Wallis Giunta, was wonderfully convincing as Bradamante, the woman who pretends to be a man to win back her man (got that?). We laughed at Giunta’s reactions to Morgana’s advances in comic scenes, but later, when the stress of her situation overwhelms her reason she goes mad with coloratura, aka the aria “vorrei vendicarmi”; in the end it’s surprisingly poignant.
Allyson McHardy as Ruggeiro (Bradamante’s man, but played by a woman) sang a heart-wrenching “Verdi prati”; while she’s a singer who has ventured into many sorts of repertoire I have a weak spot for her Handel, the voice reminding me of Janet Baker. Meghan Lindsay in the title role was comparatively deadpan, but lovely in her aria “”Di’, cor mio.” Olivier Laquerre as Melisso was involved in recitatives without arias.
Pianist Christopher Bagan was very capable, while OA music director David Fallis led a wonderfully tight, spirited performance.
Opera Atelier’s Alcina runs October 23- November 1 at the Elgin Theatre (and please note for anyone wondering –after a friend asked me about this– the Elgin Theatre run is with Tafelmusik Orchestra, fully staged with costumes; this concert was a free concert sampler courtesy of the COC’s noonhour outreach)