Opera Atelier Alcina

I’ve seen the new Opera Atelier Alcina. It’s been a month of opera-going in Toronto that already stands head and shoulders above any previous month. While occasional productions can be great, we can add this remarkable production of Handel’s opera to a month that already includes Finley’s Falstaff and Kaduce’s Butterfly, a month like no other.

Musically it’s as good as anything heard from a company known for historically informed performance. David Fallis leads Tafelmusik Orchestra and chorus in a probing exploration of a score that’s known in several versions. I confess I wasn’t aware of the ballet component—explained in the program and given free rein onstage—having always understood this opera as a virtuoso showpiece. It’s a full evening’s entertainment even with some cuts (arias missing or presented without their da capo).

In the lead-up to the opening, we’ve been told about the use of video in the production. For an ensemble known for being historically informed, there may have been some anxiety about the use of modern technology. Yet that’s surely not a legitimate concern, not when we’re already in a modern theatre using –for example—modern lighting. Opera Atelier have always been a mix of new & old, not genuinely recreating the old but rather making something new while employing elements of the old such as the movement vocabulary—both in the choreography of dancers and in the body language of singers—as well as period instruments and performance practices.  The dramaturgy that recapitulates so many elements of baroque theatre isn’t harmed by video projections onto sets that are not naturalistic.

The last few seasons have given me another simpler way of understanding Opera Atelier. Never mind “historically informed”. What we’re mostly seeing is Marshall Pynkoski’s direction with, Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg’s choreography. Pynkoski injects something very original. There’s more comedy in the story than I’ve seen in any other reading. The ballet is an important element that’s restored in this production.

And then there’s the male nudity. It’s perfectly explicable in a story of metamorphoses, where discarded lovers of the witches are transformed into animals or rocks, who are then liberated at the conclusion of the opera. It felt really apt, after seeing the Michaelangelo show at the AGO, even if it’s not historically informed; but it was certain to appeal to at least some in the audience, lobby warnings notwithstanding.

A cautionary sign in the lobby of the Elgin Theatre

A cautionary sign in the lobby of the Elgin Theatre

Sorry that I have no pictures of naked men to offer.

Alcina sounds wonderful, thanks to Tafelmusik, Fallis and the best collection of soloists Opera Atelier has ever assembled. Falstaff may be sold out, Butterfly may or may not be your cup of tea, so you must see & hear Alcina if you can. Meghan Lindsay manages an ambiguous reading where the title character is simultaneously scary yet sympathetic, beautiful but also pitiable at times. Mireille Asselin offers us a comical sorceress, wonderfully accurate in her coloratura. Wallis Giunta’s Bradamante ranges from comedy to pathos, while Allyson McHardy’s Ruggiero sounds & looks wonderful. Kresimir Spicer’s Oronte has some of the prettiest singing of the night, and Olivier Laquerre is a dramatic stalwart.

Alcina continues until November 1st at the Elgin Theatre.

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